The structure of forest mammal communities appears surprisingly consistent across the continental tropics, presumably due to convergent evolution in similar environments. Whether such consistency extends to mammal occupancy, despite variation in species characteristics and context, remains unclear. Here we ask whether we can predict occupancy patterns and, if so, whether these relationships are consistent across biogeographic regions. Specifically, we assessed how mammal feeding guild, body mass and ecological specialization relate to occupancy in protected forests across the tropics. We used standardized camera-trap data (1002 camera-trap locations and 2–10 years of data) and a hierarchical Bayesian occupancy model. We found that occupancy varied by regions, and certain species characteristics explained much of this variation. Herbivores consistently had the highest occupancy. However, only in the Neotropics did we detect a significant effect of body mass on occupancy: large mammals had lowest occupancy. Importantly, habitat specialists generally had higher occupancy than generalists, though this was reversed in the Indo-Malayan sites. We conclude that habitat specialization is key for understanding variation in mammal occupancy across regions, and that habitat specialists often benefit more from protected areas, than do generalists. The contrasting examples seen in the Indo-Malayan region probably reflect distinct anthropogenic pressures.