CHICAGO — In a remote corner of O’Hare International Airport, far from its high-profile modernization mega project, a decidedly more low-tech initiative is being carried out by a barnyard band of goats, sheep, llamas and wild burros.
The mission of the roughly two dozen animals: to mow the grass. And lots of it.
O’Hare is one of the largest airports in the world and takes its environmental initiatives to serious and sometimes quirky heights.
It has acres of green roofs, including one atop an air traffic control facility, to reduce storm water runoff and lower the urban heat island effect of the airport’s massive concrete expanse.
The airport has even turned over a wooded patch of land to 1 million bees living in 28 beehives that produce honey sold in the terminals and help replenish declining bee populations.
“Welcome to Project Herd!” said Rosemarie Andolino, head of the Chicago Department of Aviation, announcing the new effort to a group of journalists who got a look at the project Tuesday.
Behind her, the goats and their furry friends were munching their way through a steep embankment overgrown with tall grass and cattails on the far northeastern corner of the 8,000-acre airport.
Two bushy llamas bounded up to the top, chased by one of the herders charged with looking after the animals.
Under the mid-afternoon sun, the animals happily grazed or dozed, seemingly oblivious to the roar of jumbo jets taking off and the jostling of the gaggle of news photographers and television reporters, who outnumbered the animals.
One of the sheep had just given birth to a lamb. The little guy, named O’Hare, was nuzzling its mother when reporters arrived.
“He’s doing great. He was suckling on mom,” said Pinky Janota, who donated some of the animals from her rescue shelter in Beecher, Ill., south of Chicago, and helps manage them on site. “Planes flying overhead; he didn’t flinch. Mom didn’t move. Everybody’s content.”