Differences between Cheetahs and Leopards. 10 ways [with pictures] to easily tell leopards from cheetahs.

Because of their beautiful coats, leopard and cheetahs are often compared for similarities and differences. After all, they are both big cats and predators, right?

Because there are no longer so many cheetahs and leopards in the African wilderness, being able to see any of these is a wonderful experience. If you are able to see both on the same trip, how would you tell them apart?

In this article, we'll look at the differences that exist between leopard and cheetahs, and how you can easily tell them apart as though you were a seasoned game ranger.

Differences Between Leopards And Cheetahs

1. The Body Shape and Size

leopard v cheetah standing

Leopards are short and muscular while cheetahs are slender and tall.

The slender shape and lightweight of the cheetah help it become very fast while the bulky and more robust stature of the leopard allows it to carry its heavy hunts up a tree for safekeeping.

2. The Coat Pattern

The coat pattern is the easiest way of separating a cheetah from a leopard.

cheetah v leopard coat pattern

Cheetahs have a tan coat with solid or oval black spots while leopards have rosettes. The rosettes of a leopard are irregular in shape and group together to form markings that look like the petals of a rose flower.

The fur of a leopard is more yellow-like while that of a cheetah is much lighter.

3. The shape of the head.

leopard v cheetah head

Leopards have larger elongated heads while cheetahs have small rounded heads. The small head of a cheetah is rounded for good aerodynamics when running after prey.

The large head of the leopard has stronger jaws and teeth capable of holding prey while it is being dragged up a tree.

4. The eyes.

Leopards have green-blue coloured eyes while the eyes of a cheetah are amber-coloured.

leopard v cheetah eyes

Cheetahs have a black tear line that runs from the inner corner of each eye to the mouth. Leopards do not have tear lines.

5. Speed

If you are lucky to spot cheetahs or leopards on a safari as they hunt, speed should be the most differentiating thing to consider. At high speed, you won't be able to distinguish the spots of a cheetah from the rosettes of the leopard.

hunting cheetah

The cheetah is the fastest land animal and can reach speeds of more than 100 kilometres per hour. The leopard can reach speeds of around 60 kilometres per hour. 

If the chasing animal is not faster than a car on the highway, it is likely you are witnessing a leopard hunt. If the chasing animal is much faster than a speeding car, then you are seeing a cheetah hunt.

6. Sounds

Unlike the other big cats such as lions, tigers and jaguars, cheetahs are do not roar. On the other side, leopards can roar and growl.

Here is how a leopard can sound with its sawing roar.

Cheetahs do produce purrs close to those of a domestic cat.

7. Favourite Habitat

Cheetahs prefer to live in areas of wide-open savannahs while leopards mostly live in areas with some trees. The open savannah helps the cheetah spot prey while the trees are where leopard hide their prey after hunting.

At times, cheetahs and leopards will share the same habitat but leopards will tend to stick to the trees while cheetahs will prefer the open plains.

cheetah in kruger np

8. Hunting

Leopards prefer to hunt during the night while cheetahs like hunting during the day.

While leopards can hunt during the day should there be a need, they are better adapted for the night because their bigger eyes allow them great vision in the dark - which is a big advantage.

Another difference in hunting is the speed. While they both ambush their prey, cheetahs use their speed while leopards utilize their strength more.

9. Strength

leopard walking on tarmac

White Cheetahs are taller, they are light animals whereas leopards are heavier and more muscular. Leopards are therefore stronger than cheetahs.

While Adult cheetahs do kill young leopard cubs, an adult leopard is stronger than an adult cheetah and can beat it in a fight.

10. Social.

African leopard on branch

Leopards are very solitary animals that live alone and away from other leopards. Cheetahs are quite social and the males often live in small groups.

Female leopards might be seen with their cubs but once the cubs are old enough, each animal go on its own and the mother returns to solitude.

While cheetahs are not as social as elephants or even lions, they are more social compared to leopards that purely live alone.

Final thoughts.

Both leopards and cheetahs are not very easy to see on safari because of low numbers and they are great at hiding. The same spots and rosettes that make them beautiful are great camouflage and aid in hiding.

We hope this article arms you with the knowledge to quickly tell the two animals apart, by some of these differences.

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