African Safari Question: What is the Difference Between a Cheetah and a Leopard?

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For first timers on an African safari, cheetahs and leopards can be hard to tell apart, but once you've seen them on your game drives at Thornybush Collection you'll be able to tell the difference at once. Here's how you'll know straight away.

There are many ways in which these big cats are worlds apart, but we'll start with the obvious differences.

It's in The Spots – or Not

The most obvious similarity between cheetahs and leopards is their patterned coat.

Cheetahs have a spotted coat with round-shaped dots on a yellowish background.

Leopards on the other hand have rosettes on their bodies. These are groupings of four spots arranged in a circular or squarish shape around a darker centre on their paler coat. The leopard's legs, face and chest usually have single spots.

In both species, every individual has a unique coat pattern. Both feature smaller spots around the head area. So how do you tell the difference if you are viewing the animal head-on?

Feline Facial Recognition

It's easy to tell the difference between these two cats in a face off. The cheetah has a distinct tear mark or curved black line running from the inner corner of its eye down to the outer corner of its mouth.

Generally, the leopard has a much broader face. This brings us to the difference in their body shape.

Speed Versus Power

There is no doubt that the fastest land animal is built for speed, while the leopard is bulkier, with a powerful build. If they were dogs, the cheetah could be compared to a greyhound and the leopard would be akin to the Rottweiler.

Like dogs, cheetahs are unable to retract their claws, giving them a better grip while running. Leopards have fully functional cat claws which are best for climbing.

Thus, you won't see a cheetah up a tree, although they are great at scrambling up termite mounds to see if dinner may be approaching. Leopards are most often seen in trees, where they spend much of their time.

Creatures of Habit

It's a thrilling sight to witness a cheetah at full tilt after an impala but they are most often spotted resting in the shade of a convenient bush during the daytime.

Leopards are nocturnal, so the best time to see them up and about is on an early morning, or sunset game drive.

Cheetahs prefer an open savannah habitat where they can sprint after their favourite antelope, leopards are ambush predators who specialise in leaping at unsuspecting prey species from dense vegetation.

Want to Know More?

Get in touch to book your African safari with Thornybush Collection. Our experienced trackers and rangers will do their utmost to show you the difference between these elusive species in person.

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Wednesday, 23 May 2018