We propose improvements for addressing the inadequate sustainable use of wildlife resources in the community‐based natural resource management (CBNRM) programme in game management areas (GMAs) using case study data from Mumbwa and Lupande GMAs in Zambia. Firstly, we assess the sustainability of wildlife resources in these GMAs using design principles for enduring common pool institutions. Secondly, we propose the steps required to address the lack of sustainability of wildlife resources in the CBNRM programme in the two GMAs by building on indicators suggested by Ostrom's principles. The resource use patterns in the two GMAs were assessed according to their socio‐economic and institutional factors. Comparisons were made between the two GMAs in relation to Ostrom's design principles. Accordingly, the combination of socio‐economic and institutional factors restrains the sustainable use of wildlife resources in the two GMAs. Unless the Zambian government provides local communities with meaningful decision‐making powers and benefits for the utilisation and management of wildlife, this resource is likely to disappear outside national parks.