Jammin’ in the Jungle: An “Elephant Orchestra” Performs in Thailand

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Jammin’ in the Jungle: An “Elephant Orchestra” Performs in Thailand

Also: Drug-resistant malaria spreading in Southeast Asia, royal condolences for Haiyan victims

Some Thursday ASEAN links:

At a conservation center in Lampang, Thailand, one American musician has taken the role of conductor for a very special musical ensemble – an “elephant orchestra” that makes music with specially designed instruments tailored to their large size.

Dave Soldier, who has performed and recorded alongside such music legends as Bo Diddley and David Byrne, formed the orchestra in 2000 as an attempt to better understand the cognitive abilities of Asia’s largest land mammal. The group has recorded three albums, with proceeds from live performances funneled back into the conservation center that they call home.

The elephants play a variety of instruments using their trunks – from giant drums and xylophones to customized harmonicas.

“The elephants develop and learn to play in different ways,” Soldier told the BBC. “They learn where the sweet spot on the instrument is, but no-one has taught them how.”

As for the elephant orchestra’s style, Soldier adds: “Thai people tell me it sounds like the music in the Buddhist temples.”

Meanwhile, along the Mekong River, a frightening strain of drug-resistant malaria has researchers on high alert. The World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned that failure to contain the mosquito-borne disease in Southeast Asia could have international repercussions.

A drug called artemisinin has been an important weapon in the fight against malaria, but cases of a strain that is resistant to the drug have cropped up in Thailand, southern Vietnam and southern Laos.

“We have to take a radical approach to this. It's like a cancer that's spreading and we have to take it out now,” said Professor Nick White of the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, in an interview with The Associated Press. “Infection rates have been dropping but the disease needs to be wiped out entirely or it could be distilled to the most resistant parasites and infection rates will rise again.”

Malaria is responsible for the deaths of more than 600,000 people each year. Disparities in the public health systems of many Southeast Asian countries make the disease even more of a threat.

On the other side of the globe, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II sent her “heartfelt condolences” to victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) on Tuesday.

The U.K. has so far raised roughly $2.5 million toward disaster relief for the storm-ravaged Philippines, including a donation made by the royal family. The first of several British aid flights arrived in Cebu yesterday.

“I was deeply saddened to hear of the loss of life and devastation caused by the typhoon that hit the Philippines at the weekend,” the Queen said in a statement to President Benigno Aquino III, according to AFP. “Prince Philip joins me in offering our heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families at this difficult time.”