Stories by Alex Ruppenthal

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. 

Baby Porcupine is First of its Kind Born at Brookfield Zoo

(Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society)

A porcupette, or baby porcupine, was born last month at Brookfield Zoo and is being hand-reared by the zoo’s animal care and veterinary staff. 

Chicago Proposes 3 New Dog Parks on South Side


Chicago purports to be a dog-friendly city, but when it comes to dog parks, there is a huge discrepancy between the city’s North and South sides. What one dog-lover is doing to change that.

New ‘Bat Condo’ is 6th to Be Installed in Cook County

(Courtesy Friends of the Chicago River)

The structures, which look like doghouses without doors or windows, rest atop 12-foot stilts and can accommodate as many as 2,000 bats. Is this the year the bats will move in?

Bill to Help Illinois Agencies Donate Leftover Food Signed Into Law

A staff member stocks the shelves of the food pantry at the Airman Family Readiness Center at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. (U.S. Air Force photo By Airman 1st Class Carlin Leslie)

A new law aims to make it easier for state agencies in Illinois to donate leftover food, which advocates say will help reduce waste and feed hungry residents.

Illinois to Sue Trump EPA Over Rollback of Clean Car Rules

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (Chicago Tonight file photo)

In a joint statement released Thursday, attorneys general from nearly 20 states, including Illinois, said weakening the so-called clean car rules would cause Americans to breathe dirtier air and pay higher gas prices.

You Found a Baby Animal on Your Chicago Block. Now What?

Four-week-old kittens are fed at Chicago Animal Care and Control (Alex Ruppenthal / Chicago Tonight)

Residents who come across young animals in the city often think they’ve been abandoned. But that’s rarely the case. Learn how to respond when you spot kittens or other baby animals on your block. 

10 Outdoor Spots to Unwind and De-Stress in Chicago

Promontory Point (John Picken / Flickr)

Despite its moniker as “The City that Works,” Chicago features plenty of places to get away from the city’s hustle and bustle. Here are 10 spots to zen out in the city this summer.

‘We Don’t Want Your Trash’: Residents Protest General Iron’s Move to Southeast Side

Southeast Side residents hold a press conference Monday, July 30, 2018 in front of General Iron’s scrap metal yard in Lincoln Park. (Alex Ruppenthal / Chicago Tonight)

General Iron announced plans earlier this month to move its scrap metal yard from Lincoln Park to the Southeast Side, where residents are concerned about the company’s environmental track record.

Field Museum Scientist Develops ‘Easy-Bake Fossil’

A synthetically fossilized lizard foot created by Field Museum scientists who recently developed a way to simulate key parts of the fossilization process. (Courtesy Field Museum)

Fossils typically take tens of millions of years to develop, but a Chicago scientist recently helped discover a new way to simulate the fossilization process in a lab – in just 24 hours.

Illinois Gets ‘D’ Grade in New Report Evaluating Renewable Energy Standards

(Courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science)

A new report from an environmental advocacy group criticizes Illinois and more than two dozen other states for adopting renewable energy plans that allow for dirty energy sources. 

Chicago Company Installs ‘Self-Aware’ Robot That Sorts Recycling

The SamurAI sorting robot, manufactured by Canada’s Machinex Technologies. (Courtesy Lakeshore Recycling Systems)

Chicago-based Lakeshore Recycling System is the first company in the U.S. to install a new “self-aware” machine that sorts through recycled materials. 

Illinois Sues EPA Over Pruitt’s Loophole for ‘Super Polluting’ Trucks

A glider truck (Jeremy Rempel / Flickr)

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has joined her counterparts in 14 states in suing the EPA over its suspension of a rule that limits the number of highly polluting trucks on the nation's roads. 

Chicago Advocates Call Out McDonald’s for Treatment of Chickens

Opening day on April 25, 2018, of the McDonald’s restaurant inside the company’s new West Loop headquarters.

Animal welfare advocates will gather next week at McDonald's new West Loop headquarters to present a petition with more than 200,000 signatures calling on the company to improve conditions for chickens in its supply chain. 

Northwestern Rocket Launches Sunday to Explore ‘Star Stuff’

The Northwestern-built Micro-X rocket will carry a high-powered X-ray device to capture unprecedented images of astronomical objects. (Northwestern University / Instagram)

Scientists are preparing to launch a rocket in New Mexico that’s equipped with a new high-powered device that will capture unprecedented images of astronomical objects. 

Rare Smooth Green Snakes to be Released into Restored Suburban Habitat

Conservationists are preparing to release about 20 smooth green snakes, like the one pictured here, into an enclosed setting on July 25. (Courtesy Lincoln Park Zoo)

Conservation-minded volunteers in suburban Barrington are attracting snakes to their own backyards – on purpose.

City to Break Ground This Week on South Side Dog Park

Chicago's newest dog park will be located at Calumet Park, near the U.S. Coast Guard Station at Calumet Harbor. (Bohao Zhao / Wikimedia Commons)

Nearly four years in the making, a plan by Southeast Side residents to build a park for their four-legged friends is coming to life.

On Eve of 30th Shark Week, Shedd Campaign Aims to ‘Keep Sharks Swimming’

A group of Caribbean reef sharks swims in the Bahamas’ shark sanctuary, which prevents harvesting of shark species anywhere within a 630,000 square-kilometer safe haven of Bahamian waters. (Courtesy Shedd Aquarium)

With the 30th anniversary of the Discovery Channel’s popular “Shark Week” fast approaching, the Shedd Aquarium is calling on visitors to help protect a key habitat for “one of the world’s most misunderstood species.”

Breaking into a Car to Save a Dog: Should it Be Legal in Illinois?

(Free-Photos / Pixabay)

A dozen states have enacted laws granting criminal immunity to those who enter vehicles to rescue domestic animals that appear to be suffering. Should Illinois be the 13th?