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Reward offered in slashing of 9 Tucson saguaros

Federal officials are offering a reward for information about the vandal who cut down iconic cacti in Saguaro National Park, and damaged other protected plants — including a saguaro that could be hundreds of years old. A young man was seen waving swords near the site, and likely injured himself, authorities said.

After several of Southern Arizona's iconic cacti, including one that could be hundreds of years old, were hacked apart last weekend, authorities are asking for the public's help in identifying the vandals. Two smaller plants in the west district of Saguaro National Park were chopped down, with others deeply slashed.

There's a $500 reward for information that helps convict the culprit, park officials announced Friday.

Rangers received a tip that there was a young man, in his late teens or early 20s, swinging two swords while walking through a neighborhood last weekend not far from park trail where the cacti were vandalized, officials said.

"Rangers have been canvassing neighborhoods to learn the identity of the young man," park spokesman Andy Fisher said.

"Blood was found on the ground next to one of the damaged cacti and rangers believe that an individual involved in the incident was injured though not seriously," Fisher said in a news release. "The blood has been collected as evidence."

Several saguaros, and some cholla and prickly pear cacti, were damaged last Saturday along the Gould Mine Trail, near the King Canyon Trailhead in the west district of the park. The damaged cacti were spread over a 100-yard area about a half-mile hike up the trail from its beginning near the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum west of Tucson.

The vandals damaged 9 saguaros, 6 prickly pears, and a couple of teddy bear cholla, O'Neil said Monday. Two smaller saguaros were cut in half and were estimated to be 20-30 years old. A larger saguaro that was slashed and at risk of dying could be hundreds of years old, he said.

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"The outpouring of concern from our Tucson community over the damage to the park’s cacti has been impressive and is appreciated," Chief Ranger Ray O'Neil said Friday.

The damage appears to have been caused by "a sword, or other similar large, heavy, and sharp object," he said.

Chopping down plants in a national park was "a very bad idea, and we hope that we can identify those who did this and bring them to account," said O'Neil earlier in the week.

The vandalism was reported around 2 p.m. Saturday, he said.

Anyone with information about the incident should call 520-733-5118, said Fisher.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference Monday afternoon, O'Neil said that park staffers had reviewed trail cameras from the area. None of the cameras captured the incident, as they were each pointed in the wrong direction, he said.

Federal regulations prohibit "destroying, injuring, defacing, removing, digging or disturbing" plants in national parks. Violators can be sentenced to six months in prison, and fined $5,000. And there are potential civil penalties as well, O'Neil said.

Two vandalism incidents at the park in 2013 resulted in those responsible being caught. That spring, two men who vandalized saguaro and barrel cacti and a palo verde tree turned themselves in. In August 2013, a 16-year-old boy who spray-painted 11 saguaros and dozens of other objects was arrested and charged with felony vandalism.

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