Once hundreds of animals strong, the Klinse-Za caribou herd of northeastern B.C. had only 16 members in 2013.

Now, thanks to the conservation efforts of local First Nations, the birth of 11 new calves brings that number up to 61.

Now in its third year, a program spearheaded by the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations captures pregnant female caribou and allows them to raise their calves in a protected environment free of predators before eventually releasing them.

"They're very, very cute," said Harley Davis, one of the "shepherds" who has been monitoring the newborn calves.

"You watch them play with one another. Some are stronger than others; some are faster than others. You do get to know them after a while."

Logging activity threatens caribou habitat

Roland Wilson, chief of the West Moberly First Nations, says caribou in the region are at increased risk of predation due to logging.

The herd has historically spent its winters high in the mountains, where wolves have trouble getting to them. But new logging roads now give wolves easy access to the caribou's former sanctuary.

Klinse-Za caribou 2

Harley Davis, of the Saulteau First Nation, puts out food for the penned caribou. (Kayla McNay)

He said the program's success is encouraging but not enough on its own — and neither is the province's wolf cull program. He says the only long-term solution is habitat protection.

"We can pen and recover as many caribou as we have, but if we don't have the habitat for them and don't have the protection for the habitat, it's not going to mean anything," he said. "They're just going to keep getting eaten."

Caribou have historically been an important resource for First Nations. Davis felt it was important for him to get involved in the program so that they will continue to be in the future.

"I wanted to ensure that I played a part in ensuring that there is going to be caribou around when my grandchildren are born, when they have children," he said.

"I don't want them to see them in pictures and books or videos or whatever. I want them to go out there and see them in real life."

Klinse-Za caribou 3

If all goes well, this newborn caribou calf and her mother will be released into the wild in a few weeks' time. (Kayla McNay)

With files from Zoë Ducklow and CBC's Daybreak North.