The genus Pelochelys is included in CITES Appendix II, allowing international commercial trade in any of its species provided such trade is not detrimental to the species, and subject to national trade legislation. Pelochelys cantorii (as P. bibroni) is protected under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 (amended), which includes endangered species that may only be hunted under exceptional circumstances, under licence from both federal and provincial authorities. It has been designated as a First Grade Protected Animal in China (Gu et al. 2000). In Myanmar it is protected under the Myanmar Fisheries Law (1993). In Viet Nam, this species is listed as Endangered in the Viet Nam Red Data Book.
The species is not specifically under legal protection in Indonesia. However under Appendix II there is a quota of 40 for Sumatra and Kalimantan.
Pelochelys cantorii has been recorded from the Cambodian Mekong, the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve (W Bengal) and Marine National Park (Tamil Nadu) in India (Hanfee 1999), and Bhitar Kanika Wildlife Sanctuary (Orissa State, India).
Much more research on all aspects of the species’ biology and conservation status is needed, specifically taxonomy, distribution, status of populations in individual river basins, ecology, and conservation needs. Establishing one or more securely protected areas for Pelochelys outside India might still be possible and would be a priority. Public education is needed in areas of utilisation in addition to inclusion in wildlife laws in unprotected range countries.
Pelochelys cantorii is widespread, with localised occurrences in lowland rivers and estuaries from southern and eastern India and Bangladesh. through Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia (Peninsula, Sarawak, Sabah), Singapore (extinct), Cambodia, Lao PDR, Viet Nam, southern China, the Philippines (where widespread), and Indonesia (Sumatra, Kalimantan) (Iverson 1992, Das 1995, Webb 1995). It might occur in Brunei Durassalam.
Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Viet Nam
Historically Pelochelys cantorii may have been locally common (Cantor 1848, Straits of Malacca), but in recent decades is usually described as “widespread but nowhere abundant” (Moll 1985).
In Bangladesh P. cantorii is considered Critically Endangered, with very few animals seen any longer (P. Praschag pers. comm. at Singapore Red List Workshop 2011). Extensive surveys in Bangladesh have not found any living specimens in the last 10 years (P. Praschag pers. comm. 2018).
In Cambodia, one small population has been identified on the upper Mekong which had 14 nests in 2018. One animal has been reported in Koh Kong (B. Horne pers. comm. 2018).
Pelochelys cantorii is historically known from the large rivers of Hainan in China, its continued occurrence is rumoured by some fishermen but no specimens have been documented in the past several decades (Blanck, Lu Shunqing, pers comm at Singapore Red List Workshop 2011). It is now considered Critically Endangered on the China National Red List. Records of the occurrence on the mainland of southern China are complicated by confusion with Rafetus swinhoei.
In India, Das (1991) noted the species as not uncommon in Orissa, but had been practically eliminated by 2000 (Choudhury et al. 2000). Participants at the 2005 Lucknow Red List Workshop agreed that the species was nearly extinct in southern India, and Critically Endangered and headed for extinction in India overall. Very few specimens have been found on surveys or in markets in recent years (Participants Singapore Red List Workshop 2011). Very few specimens have been found in recent years.
In Thailand, populations have disappeared from the Mae Klong and Chao Phraya river basins, and the species is restricted to remnant populations in the Peninsula (Thirakhupt and van Dijk 1995), where its situation appears relatively stable (Kitimasak pers. comm. at Singapore Red List Workshop 2011). There are now no known nesting sites in Viet Nam (B. Horne pers. comm. 2018).
Very few animals have been seen in trade in Viet Nam since monitoring started in the 1990s (T. McCormack pers. comm. at Singapore Red List Workshop 2011).
In Indonesia, the species is considered very rare, with very few individuals reported in 2017. Three individuals have been found in Aceh in 2017 (J. Guntoro pers. comm. 2018).
No reliable data exists for this species in Malaysia, a few specimens are still found (Chan pers. comm. at Singapore Red List Workshop 2011). No data exists for this species in Myanmar. There are no recent records from Singapore or Brunei Darussalam. Occurrence in the Philippines is vouchered by very few specimens over the past 150 years (Taylor 1921).
Over its entire range the population of P. cantorii is suspected to have reduced by at least 80% in the last three generations (30 years), and this decline is predicted to continue.
Pelochelys cantorii is widely consumed whenever encountered throughout its range (Moll 1985, Humphrey and Bain 1990, Das 1991, Choudhury et al. 2000). More recently it has also appeared in the Calipee trade (P. Praschag pers. comm. 2018). It is rarely seen in markets in Malaysia, Thailand, India or elsewhere. Nest poaching has also been noted (Choudhury et al. 2000).
Habitat degradation and loss are probably particularly acute for this species, with lower river basins and estuarine areas particularly heavily impacted by human settlement, cities, harbours, ports and industrial development, and nesting sites impacted by sand removal, development and tourism. Entanglement in fishing nets and water pollution are further threats. Small numbers of captive-bred juveniles occur in the global pet trade.