Lee Allen
Shadow Wolf John Bothof (Sioux) says "Just because you're Native American, you don't always have the inherent skills to be a tracker. They have to be learned and practiced regularly."

Shadow Wolves – A Smuggler’s Worst Nightmare

Lee Allen

“Marijuana is the big problem here,” Carlos added. “Hard drugs tend to be discovered more at Ports of Entry where it’s easier to hide small packets of drugs in a vehicle or on a body, but a 50-pound bale of sweet-smelling marijuana is hard to conceal.”

Over the years, the Shadow Wolves and smugglers have played a version of cat-and-mouse, as spotters sit in the mountains using binoculars and encrypted radio transmissions to guide the drugs in transit; while the wolves track “cut signs” to chase and apprehend the bad guys. Using traditional tracking methods, agents can look at desert vegetation and tell how recently a twig has been broken, a blade of grass trampled by a human, or how many smugglers there are and which direction they were headed.

Patrol members grew up comfortable with nature and innately know how to read the subtle messages. Knowledge that was passed down from elders shows the wolves that it is possible to hear silent things and see the invisible in the desert. The tracking skills have been likened to playing an instrument – once the rudiments have been learned, it takes continual practice before skill levels improve.

“Just because you’re Native American, you don’t always have inherent tracking skills,” says Bothof. “Over time, anybody can be taught the basics, but it takes on-going practice to keep the edge and retain what it takes to be a success.”

Former Tohono O’odham Police Chief Richard Saunders says modest technology improvements in the form of night vision goggles were getting underway about the time he retired. “What little we had in the way of equipment was a far cry from the bad guys who had lots of money and could afford the high dollar toys to avoid detection. But no matter how great the technology, you still need a physical body to respond to the sensor hits in the field – and that’s what the Shadow Wolves do well.”

You can run...you can hide...but the Shadow Wolf Native American tracking team will find you. And your dope. (Courtesy Homeland Security/Immigration and Customs Enforcement)


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