This is Steve Ember.
And this is Shirley Griffith with the VOA Special English program
EXPLORATIONS. Today we visit the desert of the American Southwest
to learn about a group of people called the Shadow Wolves.
A Shadow Wolf is hunting. He is not looking for animals. He
is hunting people.
Studying a fiber left on the end of a plant: Did it come from
clothes? Or from burlap used for transporting marijuana?
The Shadow Wolf walks slowly across the extremely hot desert
sand. His eyes move slowly over the ground. Most people would
only see sand, dirt, rocks and some small plants. The Shadow
Wolf sees a story.
He looks closely at the ground. He can tell that five men passed
this way. Four of them carried heavy loads. He can also tell
they are moving quickly. They are not yet running, but they
are moving as fast as their heavy loads permit. One is not carrying
a heavy load. The Shadow Wolf knows this person is the group¡¯s
The Shadow Wolf increases his own speed across the dry, hot
desert. Soon, he can tell that the five men are running. They
know he is following them.
Moments later, in the far distance, a group of birds suddenly
flies away from the ground. The five men have frightened the
birds. The Shadow Wolf slowly pulls out his radio and calls
The five men are captured within an hour. They are arrested
for trying to bring illegal drugs into the United States. Once
again, the Shadow Wolf hunters of the United States Customs
Service have been successful.
For thousands of years, people were hunter-gatherers. They
survived by hunting wild animals and gathering kinds of food
that were not easily found. Their hunting skills were extremely
important. The ancient hunter-gatherers of the world learned
to follow the signs or marks left on the ground as animals moved
along a path.
This skill is called tracking. A good tracker would often spend
days following the signs of a group of animals until he could
make a successful kill for food.
These skills have disappeared in most of the modern world.
Yet, special members of the United States Customs Service use
them to find and arrest people who try to sell illegal drugs.
These Customs Service agents are Native Americans.
The group is called the Shadow Wolves. There are Eighteen men
and one woman in the group. They belong to a number of different
tribes, including Tohono O¡¯Odham (tuh-HO-no ode-um),
Navajo (NA-veh-ho), Lakota, Omaha, Pima(PEE-mah), Yorock (YORE-ock)
and Sac&fox (sack n' fox).
Trackers on the Tohono O'Odham reservation in southern Arizona.
(Customs Service photos - James R. Tourtellotte)
The Shadow Wolves live by a saying that tells a lot about them
and their work. The saying is, ¡±In brightest day,
in darkest night, no evil shall escape my sight, for I am the
The Shadow Wolves have been members of the United States Custom
Service for about thirty years. They work on the second largest
area of American Indian land in the United States. It is called
the Tohono O¡¯Odham Reservation. It is a few kilometers
west of the city of Tucson, in the southwestern state of Arizona.
The huge reservation shares a one-hundred-twenty-kilometer
border with Mexico. People who want to sell illegal drugs in
the United States carry the drugs on their backs across the
desert land of the Tohono O¡¯odham Reservation. They
try to move from the border to the nearest road, about forty
kilometers away. Usually about three or four people carry the
drugs through the reservation at night. Their shoes leave marks
in the dirt.
The Shadow Wolves follow these shoe marks to find the drug
dealers and arrest them. The Shadow Wolves have been very successful
The Congress of the United States approved the idea of the
Shadow Wolves thirty years ago for several reasons. Police agencies
in Arizona and the United States Custom Service had all the
modern technology needed to help catch people who tried to sell
illegal drugs. But they lacked the skills of the ancient hunter-gatherers
who could follow the signs left by people as they passed through
Customs Service officials knew drug dealers were coming across
the border and into the Tohono O¡¯Odham Reservation.
The government asked Indians who lived on the reservation to
help in the fight against the drug dealers. The first members
of the Shadow Wolves were members of the Tohono O¡¯Odham
A few years ago, the first members of the unusual group began
to retire. The group asked if skilled trackers from other tribes
wanted to become Shadow Wolves. The answer was yes.
The Shadow Wolves do not use only their ancient tracking skills.
They also use modern devices that help them see in the dark.
They use modern radios to communicate. They use airplanes, helicopters
and other methods of transportation in their work.
They have a very good record. In the first fifteen days of
March two-thousand-one, the Shadow Wolves tracked and captured
almost one-thousand-fifty kilograms of illegal drugs. In the
following six months, they captured more than eighteen-thousand
kilograms of illegal drugs. One day in April of this year, they
seized dealers carrying more than one-million-six-hundred-thousand
dollars worth of drugs through the Tohono O¡¯Odham
The Shadow Wolves main task is finding and stopping illegal
drug dealers. Sometimes they are asked to help rescue people
who become lost in the desert.
Three of the Shadow Wolves are Gary Ortega, Jason Garcia and
Lambert Cross. Lambert Cross has been a tracker for almost thirty
years. In two-thousand-one, the three Shadow Wolves saved the
life of a little boy who had become lost in the desert.
The child and his dog left their home and walked into the desert.
No one could find them. Search aircraft were used. Experts with
dogs were called. The aircraft and the dog experts searched
but could not find the little boy.
The three Shadow Wolves then joined the search. They found
very little evidence of the boy in the desert. But they found
just enough for them to begin tracking the child. They continued
to follow the marks left by the little boy until they found
him and his dog. They returned them to their home.
The Shadow Wolves also share their skills with other law agencies.
Jason Garcia and two other members of the group traveled to
Kosovo. They trained border guards there to track people who
deal in stolen weapons. They also helped train police and border
guards in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
The police and border guards in those countries were often
surprised when the Shadow Wolves began teaching them ancient
methods of tracking. The Shadow Wolves say the police and guards
expected to learn how to use some kind of modern electronic
equipment. Instead they were taught ancient hunting skills.
Bryan Nez is from the Navajo tribe. He has worked with the
Shadow Wolves group for twelve years. He learned to track as
Mister Nez says he learned more by finding lost children and
people on holiday who became lost in the desert.
Other Customs Officers say it is interesting to watch him work.
Most people would not see anything unusual in an area. Yet,
Mister Nez sees a lot of evidence of people passing through.
He says anyone can be followed because they leave signs on the
ground. He says he can follow them even at night, or over rocks.
Sometimes, he says, the evidence he needs is something that
he sees. Other times the evidence is something that he does
not see. Sometimes it is just a feeling that he has.
The work of the Shadow Wolves is dangerous. Sometimes the illegal
drug dealers carry weapons. Shots have been fired more than
Each of the Shadow Wolves wears a small gray colored feather
on his clothing. It reminds them that their work can be dangerous.
It also honors Shadow Wolf Glenn Miles. He was shot and killed
by illegal drug dealers in nineteen-eighty-seven. The person
responsible for the crime was never caught.
Several of the Shadow Wolves followed the killer. The signs
he left on the ground crossed the Mexican border nine kilometers
from where the shooting took place.
Each month, the Shadow Wolves find hundreds of kilograms of
illegal drugs and arrest those carrying the drugs. The group
knows it will never catch all the criminals who try to move
illegal drugs through their area. However, the Shadow Wolves
will continue to prove that ancient skills can be used to solve
((INDIAN MUSIC, FADES INTO THEME))
This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced
by Cynthia Kirk. This is Shirley Griffith.
And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another
EXPLORATIONS program in Special English on the Voice of America
This V-O-A Explorations Report is published
courtesy of VOAnews.com