Cheetah vs leopard? That’s like pizza and gelato ice-cream. Sure, they are both food and come from Italy, but there are as many contrasts as there are similarities.

These two majestic cats epitomize the beauty of the African savannah and are among the finest safari sights. But when you spot the spots, how can you tell if it’s a leopard or a cheetah? This article tells everything you need to know.

After you’ve been on an African safari it’s relatively easy to find the difference between cheetah and leopard. If you’re lucky you’ll spot one in the open, devoid of its camouflage.

There’s also a heart-stopping moment when you catch sight of a leopard or cheetah in the high grass. They move elegantly, slowly. Then in a dramatic moment they set after their prey.

Which one was it? This article ensures you can identify leopard from cheetah and already look like a pro when you turn up on safari.

Cheetah vs Leopard Overview

Cheetah or leopard?

Here are the major differences between cheetahs and leopards:

– Leopards have rosette-shaped spots. Cheetahs have solid round, or oval, spots.

– Leopards have no “tear” line. Cheetahs have a black “tear” line running from the inside of the eye to the mouth. These tear marks act as reflection absorbers while they are hunting during sunny days.

– Leopards are bulkier and stronger. Cheetahs are lighter, but taller, than leopards.

– Leopards have a familiar “cat” shape. Cheetahs are lankier than the “cat” shape.

– Leopards hunt at night. Cheetahs hunt during the day.

– Leopards like to drag prey up trees. Cheetahs prefer grassy plains.

– Leopards rely on stealth. Cheetahs rely on speed over short distances. They are the world’s fastest animal.

– Leopards have strong teeth and jaws and can crunch through thick bones.

– Cheetahs have smaller teeth and jaws, leaving a larger nasal cavity for rapid breathing. They cannot crunch large bones.

– Leopards live a solitary life while cheetahs are more social.

– Leopards climb trees for they have retractile claws while cheetahs don’t.

The cheetah can run at a speed of 120 km/h while leopards do 60 km/h.

Cheetah vs Leopard: Top 10 Major Differences

1. Behavior

Cheetah: Females are solitary, except when raising cubs. Males sometimes form coalitions of 2 to 3 individuals. The cheetah is generally not dangerous to man and usually flees when encountered on foot.

May be aggressive when raised under captive conditions. Should always be handled with care.

Leopard: Both sexes are shy and isolated creatures. Relatively aggressive, especially when cornered or disturbed.

2. Body

Tall and slender for the cheetah, more compact and muscular for the leopard. The cheetah is built for speed whereas the leopard needs more muscle power to drag its prey up into trees.

3. Claws

Cheetah: Semi-retractable, which enables them to get a firmer grip on the ground (for speed).

Leopard: Retractable, like most cats. Ideal when climbing trees or catching prey.

4. Habitat

Cheetah: Mainly inhabits savannah grasslands and plains. Cheetahs often sit on termite mounds or small hills from which they scan the horizon for potential prey.

Good places to see them include Serengeti National Park, Etosha or the Masai Mara Reserve, where animal stock is abundant.

Leopard: The most widespread wild feline. Leopards can be found in most habitats, from dense woodlands to savannahs, mountains and desert regions.

5. Head

Cheetah: Small and well-rounded, with distinctive “tear-stains” that run from the inner corner of the eye to the corner of the mouth.

Leopard: More elongated head with dark spots on the muzzle.

6. Hunting Technique

The cheetah runs after its prey, tackles it from behind to knock it off balance, then goes for the throat. Learn all about a cheetah’s diet here.

Leopards prefer to ambush their prey from a shorter distance (5-20 yards). They pounce on their victim, taking it completely by surprise.

7. Legs

Cheetah: Long legs for effective acceleration.

Leopard: Short and muscular for agility and tree-climbing.

8. Speed

Is a leopard faster than a cheetah?

Short answer is no.

The cheetah is the fastest land mammal in the world, reaching speeds of up to 120 km/h (74 mph). It uses its long tail as a rudder and for proper balance.

Leopards are not necessarily known for their speed, although they can accelerate to 37 mph (60 km/h) over short distances.

9. Spots

Cheetah vs leopard spots:

Cheetah: Small, solid black spots.

Leopard: Spots grouped in small rings (rosettes) on torso and upper limbs.

10. Voice

Cheetah: Chirps and yelps.

Leopard: Roars and growls.

Cheetah vs Leopard – Or See Both on Safari

Both cheetah and leopard are widespread across Africa. As you know by now, cheetahs are best spotted on savannah grasslands and plains, which is why the Serengeti in Tanzania, or Etosha in Namibia, are excellent places to spot these cats.

Leopards inhabit most of the safari reserves in Africa, but many people never lay eyes on the rosette-shaped spots, because leopards are so stealthy and secretive. The Sabi Sands in South Africa is always a good choice as guides know where resident leopards reside.

It’s easier to spot African leopards in savannah grassland than in thick forest, because there are less places for the cat to properly hide. So the Masai Mara or any of East Africa’s plains should provide opportunity to see this animal in the wild.

And if a good guide is leading you around wild Africa there’s chance you will spot both in the same park. It doesn’t need to be cheetah vs leopard on safari. It can be cheetah and leopard!