All of us at Lalibela have had the privilege of growing up in Africa – many of us have been exposed to its incredible wildlife from a young age. We often take for granted that we are able to distinguish a springbok from an impala or a hyena from the African wild dog. To the untrained eye, many of our animals do look similar. The leopard and cheetah often fall into this category – with their similar spotted coats it can be difficult to tell which is which.

We’ve compiled a list of their main differences to help you distinguish them a bit better.

1. Appearance 

One of the easiest differences to spot between the cheetah and the leopard is their difference in size. The cheetah is the world’s fastest land mammal, as a result, its body is built for speed. It is agile and slim with a visibly flexible spine and exposed shoulder blades. It is also slightly taller than the leopard. The leopard, on the other hand, is more muscular and stockier in build.

The tail is also a giveaway. The cheetah has a flat, wide tail that is slightly fluffy at the end. The leopard’s tail is more tubular, curls up and is less fluffy.

The Cheetah

The Leopard

2. Coats

At first glance, both these cats appear to have black spots. However, a closer look reveals that the leopard does not have spots, but rather ‘rosettes’ or rose-like markings. The cheetah, on the other hand, has single black spots dotted all over its body.

The Cheetah

The Leopard

3. Facial Markings

One of the most prominent differences between the cheetah and the leopard is the famous black ‘tear marks’ that streak from the cheetah’s eye down its cheeks. The leopard has no facial markings.

The Cheetah

The Leopard

4. Hunting Style

The cheetah uses its speed to hunt – sprinting to chase its prey, knock it off balance and grab it by the throat. The leopard uses the stalk and pounce method – crouching low to the ground for long periods of time so as to get close to its prey before leaping on it.

5. Sleeping Habits

You are more likely to see a cheetah in the daytime because it is diurnal – active during the day. The leopard, on the other hand, is nocturnal, preferring to hunt at night and sleep during the day.

The cheetah also prefers to stay on the ground, rarely climbing trees. The leopard is often spotted napping or lying in trees.