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Simpson's Surgery: Beloved ZooMontana gray wolf undergoes second brain surgery

Simpson poses for the camera as he recovers
Posted at 8:05 AM, Jun 10, 2024

BILLINGS — ZooMontana's beloved wolf Simpson, who was found abandoned by his pack in 2020, is gaining major attention following his second brain surgery.

He's recovering at ZooMontana, separated from his "brother from another mother", Onyx.

A photo of Onyx (left) with a photo of Simpson edited in (right)
A photo of Onyx (left) with a photo of Simpson edited in (right)

Onyx and Simpson are a special pair, brought together under unique circumstances.

"Simpson was found abandoned by his pack (in 2020). (Fish, Wildlife and Parks) did an amazing job of looking for his pack. They knew exactly what pack he was from. Couldn't find the pack,” said Jeff Ewelt, the executive director of ZooMontana, on Thursday. "We brought in Onyx specifically to be a buddy with Simpson."

Jeff Ewelt
Jeff Ewelt

Simpson was taken to ZooMontana where he originally thrived. But after a few months, the zoo started noticing some strange behavior that led them to examine the young wolf.

Simpson as a young wolf pup
Simpson as a young wolf pup

"After a couple of months, (we) started noticing some strange things going on. Took him in for a CT scan, and came to find out he has congenital hydrocephalus, which essentially is water on the brain,” Ewelt said. "It's a cerebral spinal fluid that builds up in their brain and causes pressure. When he gets overly excited, that builds up and it makes him really sick and can ultimately kill him."

It's a rare condition that requires a unique care plan.

Simpson getting scans in 2021
Simpson getting scans in 2021

"We ended up taking him the first time around (in 2021) over to Washington State University to have a shunt implanted in his brain that carries the fluid from his brain cavity to his abdomen," Ewelt said.

But that shunt was knocked out of place sometime this year.

"After about four years of being a wolf and wrestling and doing all the things wolves do, that dislodged recently. We made the tough decision as to what we were going to do next. So decided to take him in for a second surgery," Ewelt said. "This time it was closer to home. It was at the Bridger Veterinary Specialist in Bozeman."

The now 5-year-old gray wolf is recovering phenomenally after an eight-hour surgery.

"By putting the shunt in, we know it'll buy him at least four to five more years, which will take him to that normal life expectancy of a wolf,” said Ewelt. "The amount of care that goes into this animal, the amount of love that Simpson gets from our caregiving staff and the community, it is so endearing to all of us here at the zoo."

Close up of Simpson
Close up of Simpson

He's inspiring others nationwide.

"We love sharing the updates of Simpson on social media. But for us, one of the best things that we get is not only the love and support that we get from the community, but even better are the photos and the stories that we're getting from community members who have been impacted by hydrocephalus themselves," Ewelt said. "Simpson has a lot of incredible fans, not just in the community, but fans that understand what he's going through. That's just endearing to us at the zoo."

Simpson recovering from surgery at ZooMontana
Simpson recovering from surgery at ZooMontana

"I don't know of any cases of a wolf undergoing this type of surgery to put a shunt in the brain. It definitely is unique," said Ewelt. "It just makes him our incredibly special wolf."

To learn more about Simpson or ZooMontana, click here.

To read MTN's report on Simpson's first surgery, click here.