We tested 174 bovine microsatellite primer pairs for use in a primitive breed of sheep and two species of deer. Of 173 markers, 127 (73·4%) gave a product in Soay sheep (Ovis aries) of which 54 (42·5%) were polymorphic. One hundred and twenty-nine of 174 (74·1%) markers gave a product in red deer (Cervus elaphus) of which 72 (55·8%) were polymorphic. In sika deer (Cervus nippon) 126 of 171 (73·7%) microsatellite primers gave a product with 47 (37·3%) polymorphic. The proportion of bovine microsatellite loci conserved across artiodactyl species was significantly greater in this study than previously reported. Reasons for this high degree of microsatellite conservation are discussed. We suggest that a high resolution comparative map of the artiodactyls can be constructed using microsatellites.