Every year hundreds of tourists visit Asia to experience the local sights. Riding on elephants has become a popular tourist attraction, but it has also lead to serious concerns about the welfare of these animals. In a recent report conducted by the World Animal Protection, the organization found that out of the 2,923 elephants they saw in tourist venues throughout Asia, 77 percent of them endured cruelty.
Jack Lanting, a 16-year-old from New Zealand, decided to do something about the poorly treated elephants in Asia. The teenager is raising money to open his own elephant sanctuary in Thailand. There he hopes to create an entirely hands-off elephant experience where the rescued animals can have a natural area where they can grow and flourish.
Even though he is relatively young, Lanting has had extensive experience with elephants. He first found his passion for these majestic giants when he was only eight years old. While traveling with his mother, Lanting visited the Elephant Nature Park in Northern Thailand. There he met an injured elephant named Lily who had to carry tourists despite a broken leg. She was also addicted to drugs since it is common practice in some areas to drug elephants to make sure they behave in a docile manner with tourists.
From the moment he met her, Lanting became determined to help neglected elephants. He gave Lily a new name Kwan Jai, which means “beloved” in Thai and set out to raise money to save her. With single-minded determination, this young boy was able to raise $20,000 to buy the injured elephant and send her to a nearby animal sanctuary where she could retire.
Since then Lanting has continued to spread awareness of the mistreatment of elephants throughout the tourist industry by speaking at schools and community groups. Lanting was also able to raise awareness and push for change by successfully lobbying to remove elephant trekking from certain advertising. Apart from increasing awareness, he also raised funds to give rescued elephants proper medication as well as coats to keep them warm during colder seasons.
Today, Lanting focuses on opening his elephant sanctuary in Thailand. He was inspired to start this project when he encountered another very sick elephant named Lily. He took the encounter as a sign that he needed to take matters into his own hands.
To build his new organization, Lanting brought together a team of elephant conservation experts, many of whom he’s worked with during the years. He’s also named his sanctuary the Kwan Jai Elephant Foundation, after the elephant who changed his life. While a location has not been selected yet, once built, the sanctuary’s mission will be “ecological stewardship achieved through positive and practical actions with a strong focus on education and community outreach.”
Currently, Lanting is finishing his education at St John’s College in Hamilton, New Zealand and is planning to graduate at the end of this year. In the meantime, he is fundraising so he can buy land to create the new elephant sanctuary. The organization encourages people to help elephants by donating their time or money to elephant sanctuaries, or at the very least to be mindful when spending tourism dollars if animals are involved in the activity.