The scope and scale of wildlife crimes around the world have risen in intensity and complexity, yet current enforcement strategies have often not delivered desired effects on illegal activities, even within protected areas. Tackling the array of illegal activities by emphasizing law enforcement above other options is challenging and potentially unsustainable. We explored the potential for social norms, community regulations and socioeconomic factors to promote compliance with wildlife laws by interviewing 334 respondents in 28 villages that share boundaries with protected areas in Nigeria. Using an anonymous direct questioning approach, we recorded a high prevalence of non-compliance behaviours in all studied communities. Injunctive norms (i.e., perceptions of acceptable behaviour within a social group) significantly predicted compliance, as respondents with no complicit friends or family members were more likely to comply with wildlife regulations. Perceived likelihood of community-level sanctions played a more salient role than the fear of arrest by rangers in influencing compliance. In addition, non-compliance increased with number of dependents, but reduced with average monthly household income. Our study demonstrates that clear knowledge of the social norms that drive local behaviour as well as the authorities that enforce them is integral to understanding the forces that drive community involvement and participation in conservation. Incorporating local communities in planning enforcement interventions may help protect threatened species and landscapes.