Around 1960, leading figures in the international conservation circuit - such as Julian Huxley, Frank Fraser Darling and E. Barton Worthington - successfully propagated new visions about the value of undomesticated African mammals. Against traditional ideas, they presented these mammals as a highly efficient source of protein for growing African populations. In line with this vision, they challenged non-interventionist ideals of nature preservation, and launched proposals for active management through game 'ranching' and 'cropping'. As such, they created a new socio-technical imaginary for Africa's future, in which the consumption of wildlife meat took up a central position. This article explores the motivations of Western conservationists for this drastic rebranding. It argues that the rationale of considering African wildlife in terms of protein played an important symbolical role at various levels. It was crucial in the reorganization of the transnational networks of conservation, but also in the boosting of their scientific reputation, in the restructuring of their institutional ties, and in their attempts to maintain an authoritative position for Western ecologists in a rapidly decolonizing world.