Stories by Alex Ruppenthal

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

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)

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.

Take it Outside: 10 Summer Activities In and Around Chicago

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)

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.

EPA Proposes Adding Abandoned Chicago Slag Dump to Priority Cleanup List

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)

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.

Corpse Flower Java Blooms Again, Setting 2 Botanic Garden Records

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

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.

Sibling Penguin Chicks Born at Shedd Aquarium

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

Lawmakers Repeal Act Prohibiting Illinois From Restricting Greenhouse Gases

(Meagan Davis / Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Rare Eastern Black Rhinoceros Born at Lincoln Park Zoo

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

Protesters Disrupt Chase Shareholder Meeting Over Financing of Controversial Pipeline

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)

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.

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

(Chicago Tonight file photo)

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.

Rare Albino Alligator Arrives at Brookfield Zoo

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

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 About to Bloom Again — Sooner Than Expected

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

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. 

Pregnant Beluga Whale Gets Ultrasound at Shedd Aquarium

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

Endangered Gorilla Born on Mother’s Day at Lincoln Park Zoo

Rollie, a western lowland gorilla at Lincoln Park Zoo, with her male infant, who was born May 12. (Christopher Bijalba / Lincoln Park Zoo)

Mother’s Day was extra special for Rollie, a western lowland gorilla at Lincoln Park Zoo who gave birth to a male last weekend. 

Attorney General Raoul Decries Trump’s ‘Punishing’ EPA Budget Cuts

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul appears on “Chicago Tonight” on Feb. 21, 2019.

The Trump administration has proposed $2.8 billion in cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, including a decrease of more than $1.4 billion in funding for states. 

Lincoln Park Zoo Unveils Plans for New $35 Million Lion House

A graphic rendering of the new Kovler Lion House planned for Lincoln Park Zoo (Courtesy Lincoln Park Zoo)

The new habitat will also bring a new pride of lions, with the zoo’s current group set to depart for a Kansas zoo in the coming weeks. 

Congressional Members Urge EPA to Crack Down on Chicago Manganese Polluter

An overhead view of Watco’s storage terminal at 2926 E. 126th St. in Chicago. (Google)

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth are among those urging the EPA to take “immediate action” against Southeast Side industrial facilities for emitting potentially harmful levels of brain-damaging manganese dust.

How Shedd Aquarium Uses Egg Candling to Monitor Developing Penguin Chicks

To monitor the development of penguin eggs, Shedd Aquarium staff use a process known as candling, which involves holding a strong light to the egg to observe inside. (Brenna Hernandez / Shedd Aquarium)

In a process known as egg candling, the aquarium’s animal care staff use a high-powered light to observe the inside of growing penguin eggs to determine whether they are fertile and monitor their development. 

Chicago Zoo, Brewery to Release Beer Inspired by Red Fox’s Diet of Wild Berries

A red fox in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska (Katherine Belcher / U.S. National Park Service)

Lincoln Park Zoo and DryHop Brewers are teaming up again in support of conservation. The new fruited sour beer will be made with a blueberry purée complimented by a lemon and citrus tartness, according to DryHop.

Four Critically Endangered Red Wolf Pups Born at Lincoln Park Zoo

The cubs’ arrival – the first litter born at the zoo since 2010 – is a bright spot for one of the world’s most endangered wolf species.

Chicago-Area Students Join Global ‘Strike’ Over Climate Change

 Students from across the Chicago area rallied in support of action to combat climate change in downtown Chicago on Friday, May 3, 2019. (Alex Ruppenthal / WTTW News)

Several hundred students ditched classes Friday for a march and rally downtown as part of the Youth Climate Strike, a global movement demanding action to address global warming.

New $70 Million Tunnel Keeping Water Out of Northwest Side Streets, Homes

The new Albany Park Stormwater Diversion Tunnel diverts water 150 feet below the surface. (Courtesy Chicago Department of Transportation)

Nearly 6 inches of rain has fallen in and around Chicago since last weekend, which in years past might have caused significant flooding in some neighborhoods. But that hasn’t happened, city officials said.

Chicago Shelter Launches Partnership With Facial Recognition App to Find Lost Pets

(Chicago Animal Care and Control / Facebook)

For Chicago pet owners, finding a lost dog or cat could now be just a few clicks away, thanks to an app built using facial recognition technology.

Lincoln Park Zoo Receives Arboretum Accreditation

(U.S. Tourist Attractions / Flickr)

It’s home to more than animals: More than 330 species of trees, shrubs and plants live on zoo grounds, including the historic canopy of oak trees whose roots predate the city’s founding.

Rare Copy of World’s Most Famous Bird Book on Display in Chicago

A new exhibit at the Field Museum showcases “The Birds of America,” a groundbreaking book published by painter and ornithologist John James Audubon. (Michelle Kuo / Field Museum)

The groundbreaking book “Birds of America” by painter and ornithologist John James Audubon features intricate watercolor paintings of nearly every bird on the continent. It’s now on display at the Field Museum.

1,000-Pound Brookfield Polar Bear Gets 1st CT Scan

Pair of Brookfield Polar Bears Involved in Artificial Insemination

Chicago Zoological Society veterinary staff position Hudson, Brookfield Zoo’s 12-year-old male polar bear, in preparation for a CT scan. (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society)

Hudson, a 1,000-pound male polar bear at Brookfield Zoo, underwent a historic checkup this week when he received a CT scan and had semen collected, which was used to inseminate two female polar bears.