Black-footed ferrets at the National Zoo’s conservation center. (Mehgan Murphy/SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION)

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.