Multi-institutional studies of welfare have proven to be valuable in zoos but are hampered by limited sample sizes and difficulty in evaluating more than just a few welfare indicators. To more clearly understand how interactions of husbandry factors influence the interrelationships among welfare outcomes, epidemiological approaches are needed as well as multifactorial assessments of welfare. Many questions have been raised about the housing and care of elephants in zoos and whether their environmental and social needs are being met in a manner that promotes good welfare. This article describes the background and rationale for a large-scale study of elephant welfare in North American zoos funded by the (U.S.) Institute of Museum and Library Services. The goals of this project are to document the prevalence of positive and negative welfare states in 291 elephants exhibited in 72 Association of Zoos and Aquariums zoos and then determine the environmental, management, and husbandry factors that impact elephant welfare. This research is the largest scale nonhuman animal welfare project ever undertaken by the zoo community, and the scope of environmental variables and welfare outcomes measured is unprecedented.