PHOENIX -- Tonto National Forest officials are investigating after a rare crested saguaro cactus was damaged in the Four Peaks Wilderness area.
Kevin Nettles, a local desert tour guide, discovered the saguaro Wednesday night. He said it appeared that the top had been hacked off.
"When I saw that, I literally had a lump in my throat and was fighting back tears," Nettles said. "It was my friend."
Nettles said he has ended his tours for years just feet away from the very old and rare double-crested saguaro, and he is heartbroken.
"They must have premeditated it," he said. "That's what I first thought, oh my God look how high that is. They must have pre-thought and brought a ladder from home and just hacked the top of it off," Nettles said.
"If the investigation determines that the damage is human-caused, it is distressing to think that this natural resource mutilation was committed by a forest visitor," said District Ranger Gary Hanna.
The crested saguaro cactus, also referred to as a fan-top cactus, is classified under Arizona law as a highly safeguarded protected native plant. According to Arizona law, it is unlawful to "destroy, dig up, mutilate, collect, cut, harvest, or take any living highly safeguarded native plant."
Some cactus specialists believe that only one saguaro out of perhaps 150,000 develop crests, according to forest officials.