Denise Irvine revisits stories from the Waikato Times features files. Today she talks to Jack Lanting.
In February this year, Jack Lanting got a phone call to say his elephant Kwan Jai was very ill, not expected to make it through the night.
Kwan Jai was at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand, and park staff put Jack, from Te Awamutu, on speaker-phone so he could talk to Kwan Jai. Says Jack: "They said that when she heard my voice she instantly lifted her head and started looking around for me."
Jack Lanting is 12 years old, and it would be fair to say that few Kiwi boys of his age (maybe none) have ever developed such a strong bond with an elephant, let alone had the determination to raise funds to buy one. And he's now planning to do it all over again.
The story of Jack and Kwan Jai was told in the Waikato Times last year, explaining how on a family holiday in Thailand, Jack had been moved by the plight of elephants being ill-treated in tourism, logging and other industries.
He wanted to provide a better life for one of them. In a phenomenal effort, he raised $20,000, and in November 2010, he returned to Thailand with his mum Viv and bought a broken-down former trekking and logging elephant, aged in her 70s. He paid $15,000 to her owner, and the rest was spent on a food-shredder and upkeep. Jack named his elephant Kwan Jai, Thai for "beloved", and she was certainly loved by him.
Jack donated her to the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, a rescue and rehabilitation centre founded in 1996 by Thai woman Lek Chailert. Most of the elephants at Lek's park are handicapped or in poor shape after years of ill- treatment.
Jack and Kwan Jai spent a lot of time together during Jack's visits. He was fearless in the presence of such a big animal, she was always very mindful of him. Jack was with Kwan Jai when she took her first tentative steps to freedom at the park, when she enjoyed her first mudbath, and he was there to support her when she died.
Viv Lanting says that after they got the call in February to say Kwan Jai was seriously ill, she and Jack made a snap decision to go to Thailand. They had about 15 minutes to pack, when they got to Chiang Mai they were almost too scared to ask if Kwan Jai was still alive.
She was. She had been lying down for three days before Jack arrived; within an hour of him being there she stood up, with help, to the amazement of her vet.
Jack helped look after her, he changed her saline drip, he brought her treats such as steamed pumpkin and pineapples, even had some fun (a mud fight), and he and Viv slept in a room next to Kwan Jai.
They had 10 days together. Then, during one night, they heard three loud elephant trumpets, understood to be the signal of a death in the herd. In the morning, they learned that Kwan Jai had gone. In their Te Awamutu home, Jack and his mother are tearful as they get to this part of the story. But being there at the end provided the closure they needed. They truly loved Kwan Jai. Jack says the thing he loved most about her was her spunk.
Now Jack wants to provide a better life for another elephant. This time the financial hurdle is not so high, as he will share the cost with Auckland school teacher Tracey Hand, who has also been inspired to rescue an elephant. They each aim to raise $8000, and this elephant is destined for another of Lek Chailert's projects, Erawan Elephant Retirement Park near the River Kwai.
Jack wants to reach the target by next October or November. He kicked off last month (Nov 22) with a fundraising dinner and art auction, and now has $1200 in the kitty. There are more money-making projects to come, and he will continue to raise awareness about the suffering he's seen among elephants in Thailand.
It seems a lifetime mission: Jack has an affinity with animals. At his home in Te Awamutu there are five chooks, a dog, cat, budgie and rabbit. He wants to be an elephant vet when he grows up, and he and his mother have a dream of running their own elephant sanctuary in Phuket, Thailand. They're both learning the Thai language.
While he mourns the loss of Kwan Jai, Jack is comforted by the fact that she had about two years of freedom and dignity before she died. His best memory is running with her in the river at the park. "No-one could have loved her more than me."
For details about how to help with Jack's fundraising, email firstname.lastname@example.org (Lily is the elephant Jack got to know on his first visit to the elephant park, and he wants all elephants to have a life like Lily, among people who care).
Next week, Aimie Cronin will look back at other news makers.