5 Ways to Tell the Difference Between a Leopard and a Cheetah on Your Luxury African Safari

by MMC
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5 ways to tell the difference between a leopard and a cheetah on your luxury African safari »
5 ways to tell the difference between a leopard and a cheetah on your luxury African safari »

Leopards and cheetahs are always an exciting discovery when you go on vacation to Africa. But these two felines have confused many tourists, because people have difficulty telling them apart.

It’s almost as if they are the twins of the African bush. Mother Africa can tell them apart – almost without looking. And you know there’s a difference between them, but you just don’t know what it is. That is until you know what to look for.

Here are 5 questions you can ask to help you tell them apart on your next wildlife safari:

What patterns do they have on their fur?

5 ways to tell the difference between a leopard and a cheetah on your luxury African safari »
5 ways to tell the difference between a leopard and a cheetah on your luxury African safari »
5 ways to tell the difference between a leopard and a cheetah on your luxury African safari »
5 ways to tell the difference between a leopard and a cheetah on your luxury African safari »

At first glance, it may appear that these two cats have the exact same markings on their coats. Especially when you only see them briefly during your holiday safari.

However, upon closer inspection, you can clearly distinguish the patterns of these two predators. Leopards have a rosette pattern. These are black, rose-like markings that surround a small patch of fur that is slightly darker than the fur outside of these markings (left photo). These patterns are unique to each leopard and help game rangers identify individual leopards on safari.

On the other hand, cheetahs have solid oval or round spots (photo on the right). As is the case with leopards, a cheetah’s pattern is also unique to each animal.

Does the animal show signs of tears?

5 ways to tell the difference between a leopard and a cheetah on your luxury African safari »
5 ways to tell the difference between a leopard and a cheetah on your luxury African safari »
5 ways to tell the difference between a leopard and a cheetah on your luxury African safari »
5 ways to tell the difference between a leopard and a cheetah on your luxury African safari »

There is no doubt that when you go on an African safari vacation, these two species are some of the most majestic animals you will see. In these beautiful faces are two clues to know which one you have found:

The first thing you need to keep your eyes open for is tear marks. A cheetah has two distinct tear marks, extending from its eyes to its mouth, on the contours of its face.

According to legend, these marks were created when a mother cheetah couldn’t stop crying after losing her cubs. In reality, we don’t know exactly what the reason for the tear marks is. One possible explanation is that it absorbs the sun’s intense rays, since cheetahs hunt during the day.

Leopards do not have tear marks on their faces.

And while we focus on their faces, notice that cheetahs have dark and amber eyes. This contrasts with the the eyes of the leopard which are blue, green or yellow.

Where did you spot them?

5 ways to tell the difference between a leopard and a cheetah on your luxury African safari »
5 ways to tell the difference between a leopard and a cheetah on your luxury African safari »

Since these two cousins ​​have two completely different hunting styles, you can often tell which one you’re spotting by taking a quick glance. look at their habitat. Although their living quarters may overlap, they have completely opposite preferences for where they want to live.

Cheetahs rely on speed. As the fastest land mammal, they need large spaces where they can reach maximum speeds without risking injury. The fewer trees and other obstacles, the better. This is exactly why they choose open plains and savannahs. THE Serengeti is a great example of these open plains where cheetahs call home. The Serengeti is a must-see destination for wildlife safaris in Africa.

Leopards rely more on the element of surprise. Stalking their prey until the very last moment when they pounce. They therefore prefer areas with lots of trees, thick bushes and tall grass. Leopards also usually drag their prey up a tree to protect them from larger predators. THE Sabi Sands Game Reserve in South Africa provides an ideal habitat for these big cats. With several upscale lodges in an area teeming with leopards and other wildlife, it’s the perfect game reserve for a luxury African safari vacation.

Does the animal have a muscular physique?

5 ways to tell the difference between a leopard and a cheetah on your luxury African safari »
5 ways to tell the difference between a leopard and a cheetah on your luxury African safari »

Body type is another big difference between a cheetah and a leopard.

Cheetahs are built for speed. They have long legs, skinny bodies and small heads which allow them to reach speeds of up to 120 km/h! But running fast comes at a price: their bodies are compromised in terms of muscle. Unfortunately, this makes them easy targets for large predators who will easily steal the prey they have killed.

Cheetahs also have a tail that is about two-thirds the length of their body. The flat end acts like a rudder that helps them quickly change direction while running.

Leopards have much shorter legs, but muscular bodies. They must be strong to be able to drag a dead impala up a tree to protect it from scavengers. Leopards’ tails are also long, but tubularwhich helps them maintain their balance when climbing trees.

Was the animal in a tree?

5 ways to tell the difference between a leopard and a cheetah on your luxury African safari »
5 ways to tell the difference between a leopard and a cheetah on your luxury African safari »

Leopards are often seen in trees during wildlife safaris. They find trees very useful. Leopards use trees to hide their prey, nap and explore the area. They have retractable claws that allow them to easily climb trees, especially when in danger.

Cheetahs are not great climbers. They cannot retract their claws, and there is a very simple explanation for this. They need their claws to pull (as do athletes and spiked shoes). Their claws help them reach top speeds easily. For this reason, you won’t see a cheetah high up in a tree.

Are you considering taking an African safari from Australia to see these two magnificent animals in their natural habitats? So you should contact Destinations Africa – your local travel specialists in Africa. We would love to help you plan your ideal African trip.

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