Cheetahs and leopards are both big cats found in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia. Leopards have yellow fur while cheetahs are tan. Cheetahs are known to hunt their prey during daytime whereas Leopards generally hunt during the night. They also differ in other physical and behavioral characteristics. Cheetahs are known for their speed; they are one of the fastest animals on the planet.
A cheetah has a deep chest and a narrow waist, with short, coarse fur. It is tan with black spots, each 2 to 3 cm in diameter. It has a white underbelly without spots, and four to six dark rings at the end of its tail, before a bushy white tuft. An adult cheetah can range from 46 to 160 pounds and 43 to 59 inches long in head and body, with a tail between 24 and 33 inches. Males tend to be slightly larger than females. Cheetahs also have semi-retractable claws. They can purr, but they cannot roar.
Leopards have relatively short legs, longs bodies and massive skulls with powerful jaw muscles. Their head and body length is usually between 35 and 75 inches, with a tail between 24 and 43 inches. Males are about 30% larger than females, weighing 66 to 200 pounds, compared to females between 51 and 130 pounds. Leopards have yellow fur, with small black spots inside polygonal rosettes.
Cheetahs are found in Africa and southwestern Asia. A small population exists in the Khorasan province in Iran. Cheetahs need large expanses of land with plenty of prey, and tend to be found in semideserts, prairies or thick brush.
Leopards are found in sub-Saharan Africa, and have small populations in southwest and central Asia, including the Indian subcontinent. In Northeast Asia they are critically endangered. They are typically found in grasslands, woodlands and riverine forests.
Cheetahs cannot roar, but often chirp (to find one another), growl, yowl and purr. They are carnivores, and mostly eat mammals under 80 pounds, such as the Thomson’s gazelle, the springbok and the impala. They can also hunt zebra and wildebeests when hunting in groups. Cheetahs are diurnal, and tend to hunt either in the early morning or evening. They hunt using vision, rather than scent, and tend to stalk prey before chasing them in a quick burst.
Leopards are solitary cats and are largely nocturnal. They are very agile and are powerful swimmers. They have a broad diet, including things from dung beetles to male giant elands. Their prey usually weighs less than 440 pounds, however, and typically consists of ungulates and primates. They mostly hunt between sunset and sunrise.
Cheetahs typically live between 8 and 10 years in the wild, and up to 17 years in captivity. Females begin breeding at around 21 or 22 months old. They tend to breed during dry season, with cubs born at the beginning of the wet season. The average cheetah litter has 1 to 3 cubs, although they can have up to 9. Cheetah cubs are weaned at 3 months old.
Leopards live between 12 and 17 years. They can live up to 21 years in captivity. Leopards mate all year round, and leopard litters usually contain between 2 to 4 cubs. The cubs typically stay with their mother for 18 to 24 months.
Cheetahs are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as a vulnerable species. Approximately 12,400 cheetahs remain in the wild. This conservation status is due, in part, to the high mortality rate of infants because of predation from lions and hyenas, and due to low genetic diversity, which can cause birth defects.
Leopards are considered near threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature because of their declining habitat range and population. Population estimates suggest that there are at least 50,000 leopards left in the wild.
Interaction with Humans
Cheetahs are not known as man-eaters. They are far less aggressive than other big cats and have been kept as pets at different points in history, including by the Ancient Egyptians and Ghengis Khan. They are hunted by farmers who believe they eat livestock, although studies suggest that cheetahs rarely do so. Cheetahs are not dangerous to humans unless provoked, and some zoos even allow for personal “cheetah encounters” to raise awareness.
Leopards generally avoid people and prefer wild prey to humans, but injured or sickly leopards, or those who cannot find other prey, may attack humans. In India, one leopard, known as the Leopard of Rudraprayag, is believed to have killed more than 125 people, while the Panar Leopard may have killed more than 400 after injury caused by a poacher left it unable to hunt normal prey. Man-eating leopards are bold and will enter human settlements. Two people were killed by leopards in July 2012 in India. If an individual encounters a wild leopard, they should stay indoors if at all possible and not draw its attention or attack it with stones. Most leopards will ignore humans if left alone.
Video of a Cheetah and Leopard
In this video, a cheetah taunts a leopard who then chases him:
- IUCN Red List - Cheetah
- IUCN Red List - Leopard