She’s called Sombra, which means “Shadow.” She’s a critical player in Colombia’s efforts to stop the trafficking of a hardcore illegal drug. Cocaine is a dangerous and addictive substance. It is sometimes smuggled in suitcases, boats, and fruit shipments. In her career, Sombra has helped identify more than nine tons of it. So Colombia’s most powerful drug gang wants her out of the picture. The gang offered a bounty worth thousands of dollars to whomever stops Sombra.
Colombian police responded by transferring the hard-working agent to a new site. She travels in a van with tinted windows and at least two officers for protection. And she sleeps under lock and key—in a kennel. Sombra is Colombia’s most-wanted police dog.
God gave dogs a keen sense of smell. People have learned to harness that trait for good—like tracking down harmful substances some greedy humans sell for profit. Sombra’s handler, officer Jose Rojas, says Sombra’s “sense of smell is far beyond that of other dogs.”
The six-year-old German shepherd is sniffing her way toward a record number of cocaine interdictions—and into the crosshairs of the Gulf Clan. That Colombian cartel boasts its own guerrilla army.
Sombra got started at a busy port on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. After police got a whiff of the threat to her safety, they moved her to Bogota’s El Dorado International Airport. She works daily six-hour shifts before being escorted home.
“We are responsible for her safety,” says Rojas.
Sombra’s detective work is needed now more than ever. Colombia wrestles with soaring coca production. The United States has invested $10 billion in counter-narcotics work there. But the amount of land used to grow the plant that cocaine comes from still rose 11 percent in 2017.
“The record growth in cocaine production must be reversed,” warned U.S. deputy director of drug policy, Jim Carroll.
Colombia’s recently elected President Ivan Duque promises a tougher approach. Officials are looking at eradication strategies including aerial spraying of coca plants and drone use. But even with advanced technology, experts say on-the-ground detective work like Sombra’s is critical.
Some of Sombra’s recent busts include uncovering over five tons of Gulf Clan cocaine headed for Europe in crates of bananas. Officers also credit her incredible nose with more than 245 drug-related arrests at two Colombian airports.
Sombra’s victories have turned her into a media celebrity. El Espectador newspaper called her “the terror of criminal organizations,” and fans sometimes ask to take airport selfies with the canine hero.