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Stories by Alex Ruppenthal

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. 

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.