Cheetah Vs. Leopard: What’s the Difference?

Both cheetahs and leopards belong to what we know as the big cat family. However, it is important to note that these two species of wild cats have significant differences that are not always obvious to the naked eye, especially when seeing them out in the wild. We’ve curated this comprehensive guide to help you distinguish between the cheetah and the leopard, as well as provide you with some more information to help you better understand this majestic species.


Populations of cheetah and leopard can be found in sub-saharan Africa, Asia and some smaller populations exist in the Khorasan province in Iran.


Cheetahs generally roam around large expanses of land, where prey is in abundance. This includes, semi-desserts, thick bush and flat grasslands. They are also very good climbers and occasionally drag their prey up the bark of a tree to feed without any interruptions. A cheetah’s territory can be quite expansive, occasionally overlapping with that of another cheetah or a lion.


Leopards can be found roaming in grasslands, plains, deserts and thick bush. Just like the cheetah, they too enjoy occupying expansive territory, which often overlaps with other leopards in the area. The leopard is also one of the more adaptable cats, especially when habitats change or they need to move to new territory which differs from the terrain they are use to. In fact, leopards move to more places than any other wild cat.

Social Behavior


The cheetah lives in three main social groups, females and their cubs, solitary males and male coalitions. The female cheetah lives a very nomadic life. On an African safari, you may see a female and her cubs wandering through the savannah plains in search of prey. Wheras males are more relaxed and inactive, especially after a hunt. Female cheetah give birth to two-four cubs after a gestation period of 92-95 days. The cubs are born with their eyes shut and they remain closed for a duration of 10 days. When the cubs are six weeks old, they begin to follow their mother around and feed from her kills. From this moment on, the mother and cubs are inseparable until weaning.

A group of cheetahs on a rock in Africa

When her cubs are between 16 and 24 months old, the mother will abandon them; she is generally pregnant again at this point and will just depart or drive them away, letting her pups to fend for herself. The cubs are still poor hunters at this age and will keep together until the female cubs attain sexual maturity at two and a half to three years. They will abandon their siblings and embark on their solitary journey.


Leopards are solitary species, who rarely spend time with other leopards, except for mating and raising their young. Leopards have several partners and breed all year; females attract possible mates by releasing pheromones. Females generally give birth to two to four cubs following a 96-day gestation period and have a litter every 15 to 24 months.

Leopard cubs are born weighing about two pounds and spend the first week of life with their eyes closed. Cubs start walking at two weeks old, leave the den around seven weeks, and are weaned by three months. The cubs will live with their mom for around two years, during which time they will learn to hunt. They will leave their mother’s side and live alone only when they can hunt for themselves.

Hunting Behavior

Despite the fact that the cheetah and leopard prey on similar species, their hunting techniques are vastly different.


Cheetahs are considered to be crepuscular hunters because of their tendency to hunt at dawn and at dusk. Research suggest that cheetahs prefer hunting during the day because of the scarcity of nocturnal predators. Cheetahs follow their prey as closely as possible before launching into a high-speed chase. They often trip their prey with their dew claw and then strangle it around the neck.

Cheetahs never return to a kill and only consume fresh flesh; they are not scavengers either. When they are are sick or injured and are unable to hunt, they will starve to death.


The leopard hunts in ambush. They hunt largely at night and utilise their keen vision and hearing to locate prey. They are also very good stalkers and rely on the element of surpise and their agility to capture their prey with their powerful foreclaws. They aim to kill by grabbing their prey around the head or neck.

Leopards are picky eaters  and will usually pull the hair or feathers off their meal before eating it. The intestines of bigger animals are dumped and then covered up to conceal the smell so that scavengers like as lions and hyenas are not drawn to the scene. A carcass may also be covered with grass or dirt to keep it secure if the leopard needs to abandon it temporarily.

Physical Characteristics


Male cheetah are larger than females. Their body lengths range drom 115 to 160 cm, tail lengths are between 50-70 cm and the height of their shoulders range from 65-90 cm. An adult male cheetah can way up to 72 kg.

Cheetahs have a top coat of tawny, light buff, or greyish-white fur, with paler and whiter underparts. The black dots on the coat are close together, with a series of black rings around the last one-third of the tail.

Black tear marks under the eyes are supposed to defend against glare from the sun and to aid in focusing attention on prey.


Leopards, while being the smallest of the big cat species, are a formidable force to be reckoned with. Their skulls are particularly big, and their jaws are so strong that they can catch prey much larger than themselves. Their shoulder muscles are also exceptionally powerful, allowing leopards to climb trees often while carrying surprisingly hefty kills.

Leopards descend from trees headfirst. Their robust shoulders also aid in their leaping and jumping abilities, with a horizontal leap of 6m and a vertical jump of 3m. Leopards, despite their lack of speed, can run at speeds of up to 36 miles per hour.

Threats to Survival


Cheetahs are under threat of extinction due to climate change, human hunting, and habitat damage, which is lowering the strength of their populations. The Cheetahs own genes can pose a threat to their existence. Cheetahs have a poor rate of reproductive success, which means that they are not always able to reproduce as a species. With fewer cubs, the population cannot develop or adapt to environmental changes.


Leopards, which are classified as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List, have vanished from 65% of their ancient territory in Africa. Despite their legal status, no thorough population estimate exists.

What is known is that leopards face a variety of dangers, including the same human forces that are driving many other African wildlife species to extinction: habitat loss and fragmentation, prey scarcity, human-animal conflict, and illicit wildlife trafficking. It is estimated that leopard numbers in West and East Africa declined by more than half between 1970 and 2005 owing to a drop in prey base. It is also believed that the leopard population has declined by more than 30% in the previous three generations (approximately 22 years).

Conservation Efforts

There are many projects running focusing on conserving cheetah , leopard and other big cats in the wild. The Cheetah Conservation Fund and the WWCT’s Leopard project are just two organizations working very hard tto make sure we conserve the natural habitats of these majestics big cats and make sure that they are protected and safe in the wild.

We would encourage you to donate to a project you are passionate about and do your best to help conserve these species for future generations to come.


How Fast Can a Cheetah Run?

A cheetah’s max speed is between 69 and 75 mph. The cat, on the other hand, can only sprint for around 0.28 miles. A cheetah can sprint 2.7 times quicker than the quickest human.

Where do Cheetahs Live?

Cheetahs are mostly found in Africa’s eastern and southern regions, south of the Sahara Desert. Cheetahs can be found in small numbers in North Africa and Iran.

How Many Leopards are Left in the World

There are around 250,000 leopards in the world now. Leopards are classified as Near Threatened by conservationists. Fortunately, there are enough of them left that repopulation is a possibility.

Some subspecies, however, fare worse than others. The Amur leopard is the most endangered, with only around 100 animals remaining in the wild. Captive populations number 180-200. It is designated as Critically Endangered and may become extinct soon. With these figures, it is most certainly the world’s most endangered large cat.