The National Zoo's conservation center in Virginia recently sent 26 black-footed ferrets to a type of "boot camp" that experts believe will prepare them for life in the wild, the Associated Press reports.
These "reintroduction candidates" will spend 30 days or more in training, being exposed to underground burrows and the tunnels of prairie dogs, their main prey. It will give them the chance to hunt and kill live prey, which they have not had to do living in the zoo. The news source reports that this experience will give them as much as a 10 times better chance of surviving in the wild.
The rodents, which are the only ferret species native to North America, disappeared in the late 1970s but were found again in 1981. Still, by 1985 there were only 24 left. Since then, conservationists have been collecting the remaining animals in an effort to bring them back to a healthy population. Several zoos across America joined with the Smithsonian's National Zoo and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to breed the endangered animals
National Geographic reports that reintroduction may be difficult because the rodent relies on prairie dog populations so much, and farmers have eliminated many prairie dog populations for the benefit of their land.