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The "proboscis" or trunk consists wholly of muscular and membranous tissue, and is a tapering muscular structure of nearly circular cross-section extending proximally from attachment at the anterior nasal orifice, and ending distally in a tip or finger.

Unlike African elephants which rarely use their forefeet for anything other than digging or scraping soil, Asian elephants are more agile at using their feet in conjunction with the trunk for manipulating objects.

They can sometimes be known for their violent behaviour. This was from an elephant killed by Sir Brooke and measured 8 ft (2.4 m) in length, and nearly 17 in (43 cm) in circumference, and weighed 90 lb (41 kg).

Tusks serve to dig for water, salt, and rocks, to debark and uproot trees, as levers for maneuvering fallen trees and branches, for work, for display, for marking trees, as weapon for offense and defense, as trunk-rests, and as protection for the trunk. Female Asian elephants usually lack tusks; if tusks—in that case called "tushes"—are present, they are barely visible, and only seen when the mouth is open.

The enamel plates of the molars are greater in number and closer together in Asian elephants.

Four basic muscle masses—the radial, the longitudinal and two oblique layers—and the size and attachments points of the tendon masses allow the shortening, extension, bending, and twisting movements accounting for the ability to hold, and manipulate loads of up to 300 kg (660 lb).

Muscular and tendinous ability combined with nervous control allows extraordinary strength and agility movements of the trunk, such as sucking and spraying of water or dust and directed air flow blowing.

The tusk's weight was, however, exceeded by the weight of a shorter tusk of about 6 ft (1.8 m) in length which weighed 100 lb (45 kg).

Skin colour is usually grey, and may be masked by soil because of dusting and wallowing.

Their wrinkled skin is movable and contains many nerve centers.

It is smoother than that of African elephants, and may be depigmented on the trunk, ears, or neck.

In zoos, Asian elephants die at a much younger age; captive populations are declining due to a low birth and high death rate. borneensis lives in northern Borneo and is smaller than all the other subspecies, but with larger ears, a longer tail, and straight tusks.