Shadow Wolves track down smugglers on the Arizona-Mexico border

  • A Shadow Wolf tracks drug smugglers on the Mexican border.

    John Moore/Getty Images
  • A pistol-toting agent stands near a pile of 500 pounds of marijuana that was discovered last January.

    John Moore/Getty Images
 

The technologies border police use to protect our boundaries range from the historic (mustangs trained for mounted patrols) to the futuristic. (The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency plans to nearly triple its fleet of unmanned surveillance Predator B aircraft.)

But nothing can track a smuggler quite like a human being. The Shadow Wolves, a nine-member unit of Native American customs agents, have excelled at the job since the early 1970s, when Congress decided a special force was needed to police drug smugglers on 140 miles of U.S.-Mexico border, 76 of which cross the Tohono O'odham Nation. The agents were chosen because of their finely honed traditional tracking skills -- particularly the ability to find and follow nearly invisible signs, such as tiny snags of fabric or footprint traces. With increased border security impeding traditional smuggling routes in California and Texas, the Shadow Wolves have seen more action in the Arizona desert. And while the recession may have slowed illegal immigration, drug traders remain undaunted: Last October, the Shadow Wolves and Tohono O'odham police tailed smugglers through the desert, eventually seizing nearly two tons of marijuana.

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