Community-based conservation efforts are designed to foster local stewardship of important ecological resources. However, inequitable distribution of costs and benefits in communities surrounding protected areas can negatively impact livelihoods, increase wealth disparities and create conflict. To examine the potential for conflict between host communities involved in a community-based conservation program and neighbouring (non-host) communities, we explored local residents’ attitudes towards conservation at Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary (TIWS) in Sierra Leone. Intercept surveys (n = 368) were conducted in 18 villages (eight host, ten non-host) within 8 km of TIWS during 2010. Results revealed significant differences between residents of the host and non-host villages with respect to attitudes towards resource use and overall support for site protection. The most substantial discrepancies centred on perceived benefits associated with TIWS, and these drastically different perspectives generated a high potential for conflict. To minimize conflict and foster broader community support for conservation, managers must carefully consider how benefits associated with protected areas are communicated and distributed across protected area-proximate landscapes.