LOS ANGELES – Innovations in law enforcement help many arms of justice but when it comes to tracking drug smugglers on the U.S.-Mexico border, native intuition may be the smartest weapon yet.
The Shadow Wolves is an elite U.S. Customs unit based in the Tohono O'odham Indian reservation in Arizona. It is composed solely of Native Americans of Blackfoot, Cheyenne and Pima tribes who are known for their uncanny ability to track aliens and the drugs they may carry.
"Instead of tracking an animal, we track human beings," agent Bryan Nez said.
Twenty-three Shadow Wolves patrol an area the size of Connecticut. It may resemble the middle of nowhere, but the 5,000-square-mile stretch of the Mexican border is the frontline of homeland security for America.
Trained as marksmen and trackers, the Shadow Wolves intercepted one-third of all the marijuana stopped by customs in Arizona in 2001.
"This is what we do every day. Day in, day out, we track," said agent Mike Kittson.
And this sensitive area has become overwhelmed by drug smuggling, said Richard Saunders, chief of the Tohono Police Department. "Just in the last year alone … we have seized more than 65,000 pounds of marijuana destined for the backyard of the United States," he told Fox News.
But, even with all the assistance they bring, Tohono hasn’t received anything yet in federal government aide to help the reservation’s borders, Saunders said.
"The American Patriot Act and the number of letters — pages that are included in that — there is absolutely no mention of dollars to Indian country in general, reservations, nations or law enforcement," he said.
In 1972 the Shadow Wolves originated to help stop the smuggling of contraband on reservations, according to the Native American Press/Ojibwe News, and they used their skills to stop marijuana from crossing the reservation on its way to other destinations.
Now, they are teaching their tracking skills to foreign governments to help them hunt down weapons of mass destruction, NAP/ON reported.
"Shadow Wolves use the skills they often learned as children: tracking game on the reservation or finding free-ranging livestock that may have wandered away. These early skills translate to much finer skills later in professional tracking," NAP/ON reported.
"A group of Shadow Wolves recently traveled to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to train national police, border guards and customs officers on how to detect and track potential weapons of mass destruction smugglers who cross their borders."
And the tricks they teach are utilized daily at the Mexican border.
No matter how barren or desolate the desert may appear, the Shadow Wolves say there is a story told in the sand. They have become so effective at stopping narcotics smugglers that smugglers will unfurl a blanket before crossing a road so they leave no tracks. However, everyone leaves a trace of something behind.
Tiny burlap fibers sticking to tree branches suggest smugglers' packhorses still carry their bundles of marijuana.
Smugglers have started strapping pieces of carpet to their shoes, hoping to throw off the Shadow Wolves.
But the faint impressions leave a trail leading to drug sales across the country. In just one day the Shadow Wolves seized 800 pounds of pot.
"It is not about the stuff we miss," said Kittson. "It’s about the stuff we get."
And it’s not just the locals who are in need of protection from illegal border smugglers, Edward Emanuel, chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, told Fox News.
"They're in danger, not only our people, but also the people in the United States … because we don't know who's coming through," he said. "It's not just the nationals … the Mexican nationals, but people from other countries are coming through here."
Fox News' Amy C. Sims contributed to this report.