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Off-road vehicles a danger for monk seal pup

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — State and wildlife officials have warned against off-roading in Kailua-Kona and asked the public to keep their distance to protect a Hawaiian monk seal pup born in late April.

The Hawaii state Department of Land and Natural Resources says off-road vehicles have been driving in an area that was cordoned off to protect the male seal and its mother at Kekaha Kai State Park.

Employees at the Ke Kai Ola Hawaiian Monk Seal Hospital have been monitoring the seals and photographed tire tracks on the beach near where the pup roams.

Hawaiian monk seals are a critically endangered species protected by both state and federal laws. Violation of state law is a felony punishable by imprisonment and fines.

“We are in the process of identifying access points that ATV’s are using and will look at putting up barricades or warning signs,” State parks administrator Curt Cottrell said. “We implore operators of off-road vehicles to only ride in legal and open areas and to never ride in places that could endanger any of Hawaii’s wildlife.”

Department officials also warn against not leashing dogs nearby, as they can pose a threat to seals and other wildlife, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

Officials advise people to keep a safe distance from seals, use the zoom function on cameras and report sightings. People can check if they are too close by holding a thumb up perpendicular to the animal, experts said, adding people should not be able to see any part of the animal over their thumb.

About 1,400 monk seals inhabit the main and northwestern Hawaiian islands, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. About 300 of those seals often lay on Hawaii’s beaches, the West Hawaii Today reported.