The Elephant Orchestra – IELTS Reading

A. In Thailand, elephants are revered as a national symbol, but even there, the survival of great mammals is at risk. A century ago, more than 100,000 elephants worked in the Thai timber industry or roamed the forests. Today the number of elephants in captivity is just 2,500 and there are even fewer in the wild. Illegal hunting has taken a toll. Deforestation and the banning of logging have removed the elephants’ chief source of employment.

B. Recently, on the site of a former government logging camp, the Thai elephant conservation centre has been established. It is home to more than one hundred elephants retrenched from the logging industry. An American elephant specialist and his team have come up with an ingenious career alternative for these redundant employees. A select group of the centre’s residents have been chosen to play in the world’s first elephant orchestra. The project was initiated to create income for the operation of the Elephant Conservation centre.

C. The orchestra currently has twelve members, selected for their musical aptitude and motivation. They are aged seven to eighteen and play a variety of percussion and wind instruments in the Thai tradition – rentals which look like xylophones, slit drums, harmonicas, a bow bass, a gong and a thundersheet. The instruments are ‘elephant sized’ and specially designed to be played with trunks. Early in the project the organisers were unsure how the elephants would respond to musical training. Then one morning they were awakened to the sound of harmonicas.The elephants had picked up the instruments on their own and were wandering through the forest playing enthusiastically.

D. Making music comes naturally to elephants. They have huge brains and are highly sociable creatures. Their hearing is much better than their sight and they use a wide range of vocalisations.In performance, they stand in a line and prompted by the trainers, play their instruments. A strong sense of rhythm is evident as they flap their ears to the beat, swish their tails and generally rock back and forth. Some add to the melody with their own trumpeting. As the conductor paces up and down orchestrating proceedings, a trunk can sometimes be seen imitating the movement of his arm.

E. The elephants aren’t forced to learn complex patterns, so playing the instruments is quite easy. Commands are given only to indicate when to start and when to stop. The rest of the time, the players have the time to improvise. According to the trainers, the elephants love their work. The modest plan initially was to teach the elephants just to hit the instruments and then overdub those sounds with other music. But after only five practice sessions, a decision was made to record the performances intact with just the human noises removed. The players improvise distinct metres and melodies, then vary and repeat them.The resulting music is meditative, deliberate and delicate and it is real elephant music. Western listeners often describe it as ‘haunting’. To some ears it may seem monotonous but anyone not knowing they were listening to elephant music would assume that humans were playing.The first CD, classical in style, has sold well, so soon there will be a pop techno and country versions in production.

F. Playing music is not the only creative form of activity the elephants of the centre engage in. For several years now, a number of residents have been painting. They use acrylic paints on large canvases and have a preference for broad strokes and bold colours. Last year, elephant paintings helped raise over $25,000 at charity auctions internationally. These art sales together with profits from the CD are helping to fund the centre’s operations. The proceeds go towards an orphanage, hospital and mobile veterinary clinic for elephants and to support the training school.

G. Animal rights’ advocates might object to these non-traditional occupations for elephants. But, Thai elephants have always had to work for a living. If they weren’t playing music or painting pictures, they would be dragging logs or carrying tourists. Given those choices, playing music and painting are not such bad options.

Questions 1-6

The passage The Elephant Orchestra’ has paragraphs labelled (A-G).In which paragraph can the following information be found? Use only ONE letter for each answer.
Note: You may use each letter more than once.

1 Description of the type of music produced by the elephants…………………..
2 Details of how the income generated is used…………………..
3 Description of the musical instruments…………………..
4 Forthcoming projects for the orchestra…………………..
5 Situation of elephants in Thailand…………………..
6 How the orchestra got started…………………..

Questions 7 – 11

Complete the summary. Choose your answers from the list below.
Note: There are more words than spaces so you will not use them all. You may use any word more than once.

In order to raise funds for the Thai Elephant Centre a number of creative 7___________________have been developed, including the first Elephant Orchestra. The elephants play a variety of instruments and their 8 ———————–are being sold to 9 ________________income. These intelligent animals also produce paintings, which have been sold at international auctions. The 10 ——————support an orphanage, hospital and 11————— facility.

List of Words

painting projected
music initiatives
occupation proceeds
production generate
recordings training

Question 12

Choose the correct letter A-D.

12. What is the main idea of this passage?

A. Elephants can be trained to do unusual tricks.
B Creative projects can help to save endangered species.
C Elephants have large brains.
D Intelligent animals should not be forced to work.

Complete the sentences below with the words from the paragraph.

13. Making music comes ………….. to elephants.
14. Animal rights’ advocates might object to these ……………………. for elephants.

The Elephant Orchestra- IELTS Reading Answers

  1. E
  2. F
  3. C
  4. E
  5. A
  6. B
  7. Initiatives
  8. Recordings
  9. Generate
  10. Proceeds
  11. Training
  12. B
  13. Naturally
  14. Non-traditional Occupations