An elite group of native American trackers called the Shadow Wolves, 12 men and three women, tries to ferret out drug smugglers sneaking across tribal lands in the southwestern U.S., says the Christian Science Monitor. Created by Congress in 1972, the Shadow Wolves have become an increasingly integral part of the nation’s overall border security strategy in the wake of 9/11 and as narcotics traffickers try to find more remote backdoors into the US. The unit patrols the sparsely populated 5,000-square-mile Tohono O’odham Nation, which includes 72 miles of border on the reservation in Arizona and another 68 miles.
In an era of night-vision scopes, aerial surveillance, and other elements that make up “virtual fences,” the Shadow Wolves rely on ancient tracking skills, known as “cutting for sign,” that have been passed down for generations. By analyzing footprints, fractured foliage, remnants of clothing or burlap snagged by the thorns of the ubiquitous cacti, the trackers have been successful in confiscating illicit drugs. This fiscal year, they’ve nabbed more than 50,000 pounds of marijuana, the predominant drug transiting the reservation. For the past several years, they’ve seized about 60,000 pounds of marijuana per year. “The Shadow Wolves are very valuable in our overall strategy to combat smuggling on the southern border,” says Alonzo Peña the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Arizona.