© 2017 Elsevier Ltd Global biodiversity conservation has recently focused on the roles of land management strategies of land sharing vs. land sparing. However, few studies have evaluated the roles of social and ecological interactions in modifying the effectiveness of land management for top predator conservation. Using a 65-year dataset from northeastern China, we evaluated the roles of government social policies in resolving human-wildlife conflicts and improving human livelihood. From 1998 to 2015, both big cat populations and their habitats have increased. Concurrently, regional human population density decreased by 59.6%, forest volume logged was reduced by 62.6%. Consequently, increases of key prey species were observed during the same periods. Although populations remained small, the annual finite rate of increase was 1.04 for the Amur tiger population and 1.08 for Amur leopards from 1999 to 2015. Habitat areas occupied by big cats increased significantly. Overexploitation of forest resources and big cat declines under previous unsustainable land use are progressively being reversed under land sparing. Large economic investment and intense human-relocation projects coupled with efforts to reduce poaching and illegal hunting and trapping demonstrate a complex social and ecological synergy in big cat conservation in China.