We present a population genetic analysis of microsatellite variation in 16 West African cattle populations. West Africa represents a unique juxtaposition of different climatic and ecological zones in a relatively small geographical area. While more humid coastal regions are inhabited by the tsetse fly, a vector which spreads trypanosomiasis among cattle, the disease is not transmitted in the drier areas outside this zone. This is the most thorough study of genetic diversity in cattle within this area, which contains genetically important trypanotolerant Bos taurus breeds. Genetic relationships among the many breeds are examined and levels of diversity are assessed. Admixture levels were determined using a variety of methods. Ancestry informative or population-associated alleles (PAAs) were selected using populations from India, the Near East and Europe. Multivariate analysis, the admix program and model-based Bayesian admixture analysis approaches were also employed. These analyses reveal the direct impact of ecological factors and the profound effect of admixture on the cattle of this region. They also highlight the importance of efforts to prevent further dilution of African taurine breeds by B. indicus cattle.