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Stories by Alex Ruppenthal

City Animal Shelter Seeking Help With Influx of Rescued Cats

Ricky, a male cat at Chicago's Animal Care and Control shelter (Chicago Animal Care and Control)

The number of rescued cats at Chicago’s Animal Care and Control shelter reached a high of 300 earlier this week, prompting the agency to sound the alarm on social media.

UIC Professor Developing Finger-Prick Blood Test for Toxic Metals

UIC bioengineering professor Ian Papautsky and Erin Haynes of the University of Cincinnati Department of Environmental Health present a sensor that will conduct rapid testing for human exposure to toxic metals. (Courtesy University of Cincinnati)

If successful, the portable, smartphone-sized sensor will measure human exposure to toxic metals like lead and manganese using a single finger prick of blood  – and deliver results in minutes.

Rare Blind Salamanders Debut at Brookfield Zoo

(Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society)

The completely blind amphibians, found in Texas, are a translucent white color with bright red gills. Brookfield Zoo is one of just three North American institutions to host the rare creatures.

Chicago Becomes LEED-Certified for Green Building Initiatives

(Aurimas / Flickr)

Chicago has become the seventh city in the world to receive top-level certification for its sustainability efforts focused on green buildings.

Bag Tax Study: Use of Disposable Bags Down But Still Above 50 Percent

(Walmart / Flickr)

Chicago’s bag tax has resulted in a decrease in the use of disposable bags since taking effect early last year, but a majority of shoppers still use at least one disposable bag per trip, a new study shows.

Illinois Sues Trump Administration Over Plan to Strip Protections for Migratory Birds


A lawsuit filed Thursday by Illinois and seven other states challenges a Trump administration plan to eliminate long-standing protections for migratory birds.

Shedd Aquarium Adds Extended Hours to Free Admission in September

(Brenna Hernandez / Shedd Aquarium)

The aquarium’s initiative to offer free admission to Illinois residents this month has a new twist that could help you avoid rush-hour traffic.

Climate Scientists Create Plan for Preserving Indiana Dunes

Residents of Dune Acres, Indiana, hike Cowles Bog Trail. (Katherine Moore Powell / The Field Museum)

About 2 million people visit the Indiana Dunes each year for its hills of sand and sprawling beaches. But the beloved site on the southern shore of Lake Michigan is changing – and not in a good way.

Detainees Pair Up with Shelter Dogs for New Program at Cook County Jail

(Alexas_Fotos / Pixabay)

Cook County Jail detainees will train dogs from the city shelter as part of a new program aimed at preparing for adoption larger dogs that often struggle to find permanent homes.

Field Museum to Host ‘Science of Alcohol’ Series in Logan Square

Specimens preserved by alcohol at the Field Museum (John Weinstein / The Field Museum)

Learn about the history, science and uses of alcohol during a discussion series in September at The Whistler as part of the Field Museum’s 125th anniversary celebration.

Rauner Signs Bill Legalizing Industrial Hemp in Illinois

(kat_geb / Flickr)

A new law allows Illinois farmers to grow cannabis for non-drug uses, making Illinois the latest state to legalize a crop that experts say is growing in demand.

Grazing Goats, Sheep and 1 Donkey Help Clear Vegetation at O’Hare

(Courtesy Chicago Department of Aviation)

For the fifth straight year, dozens of animals have returned to O’Hare International Airport, where they are helping to clear invasive vegetation that can harbor wildlife and pose risks to aircrafts during takeoff. 

Brookfield Zoo Conference Examines the Pangolin, World’s Most Trafficked Mammal

David, a young male pangolin, is part of Brookfield Zoo’s “Habitat Africa! The Forest” exhibit. (Courtesy Chicago Zoological Society)

More than a million pangolins have been poached from the wild in the past 10-15 years, according to Brookfield Zoo. What conservationists are doing to change that.

Urban Farming Program Marks 10,000 Customers Served

Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza, 10th Ward, speaks during a press conference Wednesday at Urban Growers Collective's farm in South Chicago. (Alex Ruppenthal / Chicago Tonight)

An urban farming program that started barely two years ago with 7 acres of land near a former steel mill celebrated a milestone Wednesday.

New Law Aims to Increase Use of Compost in Illinois

(jokevanderleij8 / Pixabay)

A bill signed into law this week seeks to incorporate composted soil into state-funded landscaping projects. 

Rauner Vetoes Bill to Create Urban Agriculture Zones in Illinois

(Linda from Chicago / Creative Commons)

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday vetoed a bill that advocates say would have boosted urban agriculture efforts in Chicago and other cities across the state.

Emanuel, AG Madigan Rip EPA Proposal to ‘Censor’ Scientific Research

(Flickr /

Former EPA chief Scott Pruitt said his proposal would increase transparency, but opponents say it will keep certain scientific studies out of the hands of EPA decision-makers and addresses “a ‘problem’ that does not exist.”

Field Museum Expands Popular ‘ID Day’ for Mystery Objects

Field Museum ichthyologist Susan Mochel talks with visitors at the museum's ID Day in 2017. (Courtesy Field Museum)

More scientists will be on hand next month to examine specimens and artifacts brought in by visitors, including staff specializing in zoology, paleontology, geology, ichthyology (also known as fish science) and more.

The Aquatic Life of Shedd Photographer Brenna Hernandez

(Courtesy Shedd Aquarium)

She is Shedd’s only full-time photographer, capturing images of the aquarium’s 32,000 animals from both in and out of the water. A conversation with Brenna Hernandez.

New Illinois Law Bans Sale of Ivory, Rhinoceros Horn

Ivory seized Feb. 2, 2018 from poachers convicted of killing 11 elephants in and around Nouabale-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo. (Z. Labuschagne / Wildlife Conservation Society)

As part of a growing movement to undermine the bloody practice of elephant and rhino poaching, Illinois has become the ninth state to ban the sale of ivory and rhino horn.

Revised Law Frees Police in Illinois to Rescue Suffering Cats and Dogs

(Free-Photos / Pixabay)

A recently passed revision to Illinois’ Humane Care for Animals Act clarifies the right of police to take custody of dogs or cats suffering from extreme heat, cold or other life-threatening conditions. 

Lincoln Park Zoo Takes Urban Wildlife Program Global

(Courtesy Lincoln Park Zoo)

A groundbreaking program to study urban wildlife using a network of motion-triggered cameras is expanding to Canada and South Africa. 

Scientists Discover 2 New Non-Native Species in Great Lakes

(Frank McNamara / Flickr)

Researchers from Cornell University and the EPA are raising concerns about the potential impact of recently discovered non-invasive species on the overall health of the Great Lakes.

Durbin Urges EPA to Expand Manganese Monitoring on Southeast Side

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin holds a press conference Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018 in front of S.H. Bell’s industrial facility along the Calumet River on the city’s Southeast Side. (Chicago Tonight)

After touring Chicago’s industry-dominated Southeast Side on Thursday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin pressed the Environmental Protection Agency to increase monitoring of brain-damaging manganese dust. 

Assessing the Health of Chicago-Area Bats – Using Their Poop

(Anne Brooke / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

As part of a relatively new Lincoln Park Zoo project, guano from bats across the Chicago area is collected and tested for levels of cortisol, an indicator of stress.