Stories by Alex Ruppenthal

A red wolf pup at Lincoln Park Zoo (Christopher Bijalba / Lincoln Park Zoo)

Animals to See at Chicago Zoos and Aquariums This Summer

From rare blind salamanders to adorable red wolf pups, here’s our guide to the newest and most unique animals to visit in and around Chicago. 

A rescued sea lion pup receives fluids in a warming pool at Channel Island Marine & Wildlife Institute in California. (Brenna Hernandez / Shedd Aquarium)

Shedd Experts Help Rescue 55-Plus Stranded Sea Lion Pups in California

The response by animal care specialists from Shedd and other institutions comes amid reports of an abnormally large number of sick adult California sea lions and malnourished pups. 

Leaves on a tree affected with Phytophthora ramorum, also known as sudden oak death (Courtesy California Oak Mortality Task Force)

Pathogen That Causes Tree-Killing Disease Found In Illinois

The disease known as sudden oak death has killed large numbers of oak trees and native plant species in California, Oregon and Europe. The pathogen behind it has now been identified in Illinois.

Canoers on the Mississippi River near Alton (

Try These 10 Summer Outdoor Adventures Without Leaving Illinois

From hiking to kayaking and fishing to stargazing, here are 10 activities to try this summer in the good ol’ Land of Lincoln. 

S.H. Bell’s bulk storage facility along the Calumet River on Chicago’s Southeast Side. (Alex Ruppenthal / Chicago Tonight)

EPA Plans $1.3M Cleanup of Manganese-Contaminated Soil on Southeast Side

The Environmental Protection Agency will soon begin removing up to 2 feet of contaminated soil from as many as 15 homes near a storage facility operated by S.H. Bell, which handles manganese and other industrial materials. 

A bumblebee lands on a flower. (Courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden)

Chicago Botanic Garden Exhibit Explores the Vital Role of Pollinators

Pollinating animals account for an estimated one out of every three bites of food humans eat. “Bees & Beyond” explains how the process works, traces its evolutionary history and demonstrates its impact on our daily lives.

(Creative Commons / © 2013, Jeremy Atherton)

UIC Launches Guide for Communities Facing Pollution, Health Risks

Responding to increasing public concern over environmental health threats, researchers have published a guide designed to help residents of Great Lakes communities determine if air, water or soil contamination is affecting their health. 

(Courtesy The Field Museum)

Cities Can Play Key Role in Saving Monarch Butterflies, Studies Find

Chicago and other U.S. cities could provide nearly one-third of the milkweed plant scientists estimate is needed to save monarch butterflies, whose populations have plummeted in recent decades. 


EPA’s Rollback of Obama Rule Decried as ‘Dirty Power Plan’

Public officials and environmental advocates are speaking out against the Trump administration’s rollback of an Obama-era effort to shift the U.S. away from coal-fired power plants. 

A piping plover on Waukegan Beach in 2018. (Ethan Ellis / Flickr)

Move of Beachside Music Fest Prompts Pushback Over Endangered Birds

Organizers of Mamby on the Beach want to move the music festival to Montrose Beach, but conservationists are pushing back because of two endangered birds living at the site. 

Fairlife's headquarters at 1001 W. Adams St. in Chicago (Alex Ruppenthal / WTTW News)

Advocates Rally at Fairlife Over Alleged Animal Abuse at Indiana Farm

Chicago-based Fairlife has been under fire since an animal welfare group released videos showing workers at the company's top dairy supplier abusing cows. 

A woman rides an electric scooter in Baltimore on Nov. 18, 2018. (Elvert Barnes / Flickr)

Will Chicago’s Shared Electric Scooters Cut Emissions? It Depends, Experts Say

A new pilot program will give Chicagoans another option for getting around the city. But will electric scooters help reduce transportation-related pollution? 

A monarch butterfly (Pixnio)

10 Prime Spots to See Butterflies in Chicago

It’s a colorful sign of summer: brightly colored butterflies floating on the wind. From nature museums to forest preserves to beachfront parks, Chicago has plenty of spots to see these beautiful insects. Here are 10 of the best. 

A wild parsnip plant (Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore / Flickr)

City to Remove Plant Near Chicago River That Can Cause Second-Degree Burns

An attractive yet potentially dangerous plant identified near the North Avenue Bridge will be removed this week, a spokesperson for Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation said Monday.

The Agave americana plant at Garfield Park Conservatory, pictured here in March, measures 33 feet, 6 inches tall as of June 5. It is now growing through the greenhouse roof. (Courtesy Garfield Park Conservatory)

At Nearly 34 Feet Tall, Garfield Park’s Agave Plant is Through the Roof

In the midst of a massive growth spurt that began in late winter, the century plant at Garfield Park Conservatory now hovers above the glass dome. We last visited the plant in March, when it stood a mere 17 feet tall.

Shedd Aquarium’s Kayak for Conservation program aims to introduce residents to the Chicago River ecosystem and the wildlife that call the waters home. (Hilary Wind / Shedd Aquarium)

Take it Outside: 10 Summer Activities In and Around Chicago

Chicago summers are nature’s way of rewarding your winter survival skills. And now that warm weather is here, it’s time to get off the couch and actively embrace the season. Here are 10 fun, easy ways to do just that.

A Chicago Department of Public Health sign warns passersby about hazardous materials at the 67-acre property west of Wolf Lake at 126th Place and Avenue O. (Alex Ruppenthal / WTTW News)

EPA Proposes Adding Abandoned Chicago Slag Dump to Priority Cleanup List

Records show the 67-acre site on the Far Southeast Side, used as a dumping ground for more than two decades by Republic Steel, is contaminated with lead, manganese, mercury and other toxins.

Java, a corpse flower at the Chicago Botanic Garden, bloomed May 23, 2019. (Courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden)

Corpse Flower Java Blooms Again, Setting 2 Botanic Garden Records

At 82.5 inches, Java is not only the tallest corpse flower to bloom at the Chicago Botanic Garden, but the quickest among its type at the garden to re-bloom.

A pair of sibling Magellanic chicks hatched this month at Shedd Aquarium. (Brenna Hernandez / Shedd Aquarium)

Sibling Penguin Chicks Born at Shedd Aquarium

Both penguin chicks came from eggs laid by the same pair of penguins, Chile and Jr. The hatchlings are the second and third Magellanic penguins born and bred at Shedd Aquarium. 

(Meagan Davis / Wikimedia Commons)

Lawmakers Repeal Act Prohibiting Illinois From Restricting Greenhouse Gases

The Illinois General Assembly has voted to repeal a decades-old law that prohibited the state from implementing its own restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.

A newborn rhino calf at Lincoln Park Zoo stood on all four legs just 53 minutes after birth. (Courtesy Lincoln Park Zoo)

Rare Eastern Black Rhinoceros Born at Lincoln Park Zoo

After 15 months of pregnancy, Lincoln Park Zoo rhinoceros Kapuki gave birth to a new calf Sunday. And just 53 minutes after birth, it was able to stand up on all four legs.

Environmental activists rallied outside Chase Tower in Chicago on Tuesday, May 21, 2019 to protest JPMorgan Chase & Company’s financing of fossil fuel projects. (Alex Ruppenthal / WTTW)

Protesters Disrupt Chase Shareholder Meeting Over Financing of Controversial Pipeline

Dozens of environmental activists from across the Midwest rallied Tuesday outside Chase Tower in the Loop to protest the financing of fossil fuel projects by the country’s largest bank.

(Chicago Tonight file photo)

An ‘Open Swim’ in the Chicago River is in the Works for September

Doug McConnell has swam in New York’s Hudson River, the Boston Harbor and even the English Channel. Now he wants to make a splash in his own city.

Snowflake, a 7-foot-long albino American alligator, will reside at Brookfield Zoo through September. (Kelly Tone / Chicago Zoological Society)

Rare Albino Alligator Arrives at Brookfield Zoo

Snowflake, a 16-year-old American alligator, is estimated to be one of just about 100 albino alligators in existence. 

Java the corpse flower is on bloom watch at the Chicago Botanic Garden. (Alex Ruppenthal / WTTW News)

Java the Corpse Flower is About to Bloom Again — Sooner Than Expected

After blooming for the first time in June 2017, Java, one of the dozen or so corpse flowers at the Chicago Botanic Garden, is preparing to bloom again. 

Mauyak, one of eight beluga whales at Shedd Aquarium (Brenna Hernandez / Shedd Aquarium)

Pregnant Beluga Whale Gets Ultrasound at Shedd Aquarium

Mauyak, a 38-year-old beluga whale, is already mother to 6-year-old Kimalu and is expected to give birth again this summer.