India is the home to five of the eight majestic big cats of the world. The three major big cats namely, lion, tiger, and leopard are listed in the Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Apart from the severe loss of the habitat, these are continuously facing the danger of extinction mainly due to poaching and hunting for their body parts, which are being greatly valued by apothecaries marketing traditional Chinese medicines. With the advent of polymerase chain reaction (PCR), DNA-based markers have emerged as major tools in the arena of wildlife forensics.
Microsatellites (short tandem repeats, STRs) are markers of choice because of their polymorphic and co-dominant nature. These strictly follow the Mendelian inheritance and are highly reproducible. We have identified a new microsatellite (STR) locus Ple 46, which shows amplification in a speciesspecific manner (size of STR) in all the members of the family felidae studied here. This PCR-based, non-invasive method opens a new avenue to forensic identification of big cats. # 2004 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.