When most people drive through the Cactus Forest in Saguaro national park, their gazes are fixed skyward. Towering saguaros fill the view on either side of the road, rising 40, even 60ft high, their human-like arms outstretched.
But on a recent December afternoon, Ray O’Neil was focused on the ground. He was looking for holes. As the park’s chief ranger, O’Neil is on constant alert for an unusual menace: cactus poachers. Saguaros aren’t just beautiful to look at; they also fetch a hefty price, up to $100 a foot, on the black market, where they are enormously popular with landscapers.