Twelve microsatellite loci were characterized in California mountain lions (Puma concolor) and sufficient polymorphism was found to uniquely genotype 62 animals sampled at necropsy. Microsatellite genotypes obtained using mountain lion faecal DNA matched those from muscle for all of 15 individuals examined. DNA from potential prey species and animals whose faeces could be misidentified as mountain lion faeces were reliably distinguished from mountain lions using this microsatellite panel. In a field application of this technique, 32 faecal samples were collected from hiking trails in the Yosemite Valley region where seven mountain lions previously had been captured, sampled, and released. Twelve samples yielded characteristic mountain lion genotypes, three displayed bobcat-type genotypes, and 17 did not amplify. The genotype of one of the 12 mountain lion faecal samples was identical to one of the mountain lions that previously had been captured. Three of the 12 faecal samples yielded identical genotypes, and eight new genotypes were detected in the remaining samples. This analysis provided a minimum estimate of 16 mountain lions (seven identified by capture and nine identified by faecal DNA) living in or travelling through Yosemite Valley from March 1997 to August 1998. Match probabilities (probabilities that identical DNA genotypes would be drawn at random a second time from the population) indicated that the samples with identical genotypes probably came from the same mountain lion. Our results demonstrate that faecal DNA analysis is an effective method for detecting and identifying individual mountain lions.