Chitra chitra has been listed on CITES Appendix II since 2002 and is protected from exploitation in Thailand under the Wildlife Preservation and Protection Act (WARPA law) of 1992. It is also protected in Indonesia under the Government Regulation of Indonesia No. 7 of 1999.
A conservation breeding program was established in Kanchanaburi by the Fisheries Department of Thailand in the late 1990s with the goal of supporting the population through release of headstarted captive-bred juveniles. Further in situ conservation measures, including strict protection of nesting sites and adjoining river areas, environmentally sensitive operation of hydroelectric reservoirs, public awareness and education, and further population surveys and monitoring, are needed (van Dijk and Palasuwan 2000; Kitimasak et al. 2003, 2005).
Chitra chitra is known from the Mae Khlong and Mae Nam Pachi River systems of western Thailand, the Pahang River of Peninsular Malaysia, the Solo River of central Java, and the Brantas River in eastern Java, and Ciliwung River in western Java, Indonesia; it is reputed to occur in Sumatra but this remains unconfirmed. Recent records exist for eastern Java. Historically, the species was cited by local inhabitants as present in the Chao Phraya and Bang Pakong River systems of central Thailand, but there are no actual specimens or records to support this.
The subpopulation of Chitra chitra in the Mae Klong and Mae Nam Pachi basins of western Thailand inhabits a relatively small river system and animals are uncommon within the basin, with the subpopulation considered to be in continuing decline (Kitimasak et al. 2005). Subpopulations in the Chao Phraya and Bang Pakong systems appear to have disappeared since 1890 (Kitimasak and Thirakhupt 2002, Webb and van Dijk 2004). It was listed in the 1997 OEPP Red List and 2005 ONEP Red Data for Thailand as Critically Endangered. The Peninsular Malaysian subpopulation appears to be even more sparse, with only a few individual animals reported over the past 80 years. The species is considered very rare in Indonesia and is only recorded from accidental sightings. A recent targeted survey in 2014 in Jambi could not find the species (T. Lescher, unpublished report 2014). It is suspected that the population of this species has been reduced by over 80% in the past three generations due to exploitation and extensive habitat degradation.
The main threats to Chitra chitra include collection for meat consumption and international pet trade. The eggs are also collected for consumption. The species is rarely found in the wild now. In addition, habitat impacts are substantial, and include the downstream effects of dams and reservoirs (affecting water temperature and turbidity, substrate texture, and water levels, potentially flooding nesting sites), river alteration, pollution, and sand dredging. (Sharma and Tisen 2000, van Dijk and Palasuwan 2000, Kitimasak et al. 2005).
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