There is increasing evidence that areas of outstanding conservation importance may coincide with dense human settlement or impact. We tested the generality of these findings using 1 degree-resolution data for sub-Saharan Africa. We find that human population density is positively correlated with species richness of birds, mammals, snakes, and amphibians. This association holds for widespread, narrowly endemic, and threatened species and looks set to persist in the face of foreseeable population growth. Our results contradict earlier expectations of low conflict based on the idea that species richness decreases and human impact increases with primary productivity. We find that across Africa, both variables instead exhibit unimodal relationships with productivity. Modifying priority-setting to take account of human density shows that, at this scale, conflicts between conservation and development are not easily avoided, because many densely inhabited grid cells contain species found nowhere else.