You've seen police on horseback or drug-sniffing dogs. But those aren't the only animals with jobs that help their cities. From the most adorable lawn-mowers ever to man's best bedbug hunters, here are five ways animals are helping address nagging urban problems.
As Brush Clearers
In Seattle, there are two constants: hills and blackberry bushes, the latter of which spread quickly through gardens and green spaces. Combine the two and you've got a real headache for the city's public works department. But there's one animal that thrives on hills and thorny bushes: goats.
The city's department of transportation hired 60 goats to clear a hill of brush that was deemed too dangerous for humans to navigate. Seattle City Light, the city's electric power utility, and the Seattle Parks and Recreation department have also hired the goats for brush clearing. One goat owner who rents them out to the city told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "They suck down blackberry vines like it was spaghetti. I don't understand it, [but] the thorns don't bother them at all."
Check out the brush-clearing goats in action:
As Bedbug Finders
Bedbugs are a nightmare to get rid of and they thrive in urban environments. But many cities are finding success employing dogs to search out the elusive pests. City housing authorities from Seattle, Milwaukee, and New York have purchased bedbug-sniffing dogs. Just as dogs can be trained to sniff out drugs and bombs, certain dogs can be trained to find bedbugs.
But these specialized canines come at a high price. In 2009, Milwaukee purchased Gracie, a 12-pound Jack Russell terrier, to go on bedbug-hunting missions throughout the city's 5,300 units of public housing. Gracie cost the city $10,000, but one city official explained to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel why she's worth the money:
The advantage is that the animal can pinpoint bedbugs without having to go through all the units in a building, or trying to treat a whole building with various methods like raising the temperature in a building to 120 degrees.
And to stay off this list, we're guessing it's worth the cost.
As Natural Pesticides
In Thousand Oaks, California, native Modesto ash trees were being held captive by whiteflies and aphids ("plant lice"). Fortunately for the city, ladybugs have big appetites for these calamitous critters.
Last month, the city's public works department deployed 720,000 hungry ladybugs to keep the plant destroyers in check. The beetles, which can consume about 5,000 of the insects throughout their two-year lifespan, cost the city about $2,000 per year. Much cheaper than the hundreds of dollars per vial of pesticide, according to the Ventura County Star.
As Lawn Mowers
Vacant lots have become a major problem in struggling cities during and even before the recession, costing taxpayers big money in maintenance and clean-up fees.
In Cleveland, officials came up with a cost-effective alternative: a flock of sheep (along with one llama). "We found that we could reduce the cost of mowing up to 50 percent and, of course, there is significantly less environmental impact," Laura DeYoung of Urban Shepherds told The Plain Dealer.
As Mosquito Killers
Austin rather famously stumbled across its unlikely non-human ally: bats.
When the Congress Avenue Bridge was constructed in 1980, its crevices proved particularly hospitable to bats. Some Austinites wanted to see them gone, but the city decided to let them be. Today, the bridge is home to about 1.5 million bats, making it the largest urban bat colony in the world.
This has provided Austin a number of benefits. On a typical night flight the colony can consume 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of insects, including agricultural pests and mosquitoes. The bats have also become a popular tourist attraction. It's the 21st ranked tourist attraction in the city and it's estimated that hundreds of thousands of people visit the site each year.