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Posted at 07:48 AM ET, 09/29/2011

Save the ferrets: National Zoo sends endangered critters to ‘boot camp’

Black-footed ferrets at the National Zoo’s conservation center. (Mehgan Murphy - SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION)
More than two dozen black-footed ferrets are going to “boot camp,” courtesy of the National Zoo’s conservation center in Front Royal, Va., in hopes of preparing the critters for life in the wild.

Researchers told the Associated Press that this is part of an ongoing effort to restore the ferrets’ wild population. The black-footed ferret had been declared extinct before the species was rediscovered in 1981.

At the time, they were a wily group of just 24, found in the wild in Wyoming. There are now 1,000 black-footed ferrets living in the wild in North America.

Despite the progress, it’s still a far cry from the ferrets’ heyday. They once numbered at least a half million on the Great Plains, researchers said.

A contingent of 26 ferrets was shipped Wednesday to Colorado, where the boot camp will be held. The boot camp is designed to give them a chance to hunt prairie dogs — ferrets’ main source of food — before endeavoring to do so in the wild.

By  |  07:48 AM ET, 09/29/2011

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