Meet the Waikato teen saving elephants from tourist trade in Thailand

An ambitious Waikato teen who has spent the past eight years supporting elephants in Thailand has set his sights on something much bigger. Jack Lanting now wants to open his own elephant sanctuary.

Jack was just eight years old and on a family holiday in Thailand when he fell in love with a rescue elephant named Lily. 

"I don't know how but there was just this connection, and pretty much we were inseparable for the two days that we were there," he tells Newshub. 

He says it was during that trip he heard about an American couple who bought and saved another elephant from the tourist trade, and decided he wanted to do the same thing. 

"I got told no because an elephant is way too expensive... so I came back one week later with a notebook full of scribbles and stuff and said, 'Why don't we fundraise?'"

Jack wouldn't take no for an answer, and managed to raise $20,000 in 18 months. 

He went back to Thailand and bought an elephant from the tourist trade. He named her Kwan Jai - meaning Beloved - and took her to the elephant nature park sanctuary in Chiang Mai. 

"It felt weird being on a truck with an elephant and just spending that much money in one go... But it was also an amazing feeling knowing that she was free." 

Since then the teen has travelled to Thailand nine times. He's saved another elephant and helped rescue three others.

Now 16, he wants to raise $1.8 million for his very own sanctuary, to start building in July. Jack says the sanctuary will double as a conservation project, and while a location is yet to be confirmed, he's been looking at areas in central Thailand. 

With a fundraising target of nearly $2 million, he needs all the help he can get. To donate, go to the foundation's website.