The Wild Catfight

The other day, I recall having this particular conversation over the phone with my friend Shilpa, which I thought was worthy of a post. So here goes! It so happened that during the course of the conversation, the topic somehow (of course I know how but don’t expect me to elaborate) got to leopards and cheetahs, and how they are different from each other. I realized that although I am confident I can tell them apart any day, from a distance obviously (because we stop caring when they aren’t so far anymore), I failed to specifically list out the basic differences between the two big cats. So I found myself taking some time off, researching around, and now I’m back with some interesting stuff you might not have known before. At least I didn’t. And so I thought we should share our gyaan, whatever little we have. The world ends in 27 days, remember? The disclaimer this time around will be that there’s nothing funny about this post. I’ve strictly stuck to the facts, and from very reliable sources, so the believability is 100 per cent. Read on.First let us look at the basic definitions, shall we?

The cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, is a large-sized feline (family Felidae, subfamily Felinae) inhabiting most of Africa and parts of the Middle East. It is the only extant member of the genus Acinonyx. The cheetah can run faster than any other land animal— as fast as 112 to 120 km/h in short bursts covering distances up to 500 m, and has the ability to accelerate from 0 to over 100 km/h in three seconds. This cat is also notable for modifications in the species’ paws. It is one of the few felids with semi-retractable claws. The word “cheetah” is derived from the Sanskrit word citrakāyaḥ, meaning “variegated”, via the Hindi ‘चीता’ (cītā). The genus name, Acinonyx, means “no-move-claw” in Greek, while the species name, jubatus, means “maned” or “crested” in Latin, a reference to the dorsal crest found in cheetah cubs.
  • The cheetah has a tall and slender build.
  • The head of a cheetah is quite small in relation to its body, when compared to leopard, making the cheetah more stream-lined.
  • Their nostrils are large in size to allow maximum oxygen in-take for their muscles, while running at high speeds.
  • Cheetah’s tails are quite flat towards the end, acting as a rudder to balance it while running.
  • Instead of having rosette shaped spots, they have single large spots (like thumb prints), covering the whole body. The front of face has very few spots and is more a light brown colour.
  • Cheetah’s have black “tear lines” which run from the eyes down to the sides of the mouth. They hunt mostly during the day, so the black “tear lines” help absorb light, to prevent a blinding effect from the bright sunlight.
  • The cheetah can only retract its dew claw. The dew claw is hooked onto an animal that it’s hunting to try pull it down. The rest of the claws are non-retractable, just like dogs, giving the Cheetah better grip on the ground while running.

The leopard, Panthera pardus, is a member of the Felidae family and the smallest of the four “big cats” in the genus Panthera, the other three being the tiger, lion, and jaguar. The leopard was once distributed across eastern and southern Asia and Africa, from Siberia to South Africa, but its range of distribution has decreased radically because of hunting and loss of habitat. It is now chiefly found in sub-Saharan Africa; there are also fragmented populations in the Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka, Indochina, Malaysia, Indonesia, and China. Because of its declining range and population, it is listed as a “Near Threatened” species on the IUCN Red List. The species’ success in the wild is in part due to its opportunistic hunting behaviour, its adaptability to habitats, its ability to run at speeds approaching 58 kilometres per hour, its unequalled ability to climb trees even when carrying a heavy carcass, and its notorious ability for stealth. The leopard consumes virtually any animal that it can hunt down and catch. Its habitat ranges from rainforest to desert terrains.

  • The leopard is a very large, muscular predator, weighing 100kg and even more.
  • The leopard is a far more powerful animal compared to the cheetah.
  • The spots of the leopard are rosette in shape, covering the whole body as well as the face.
  • They have white eye-linings at the bottom of the eyes. The white colour assists its vision at night by amplifying light which is reflected off objects around it, into the eyes.

Here’s how the two big cats measure up to each other:

  1. Leopards have rosette-shaped spots. Cheetahs have solid round, or oval, spots.
  2. Leopards have no “tear” line. Cheetahs have a black “tear” line running from the inside of the eye to the mouth.
  3. Leopards are bulkier and stronger. Cheetahs are lighter, but taller, than leopard.
  4. Leopards have a familiar “cat” shape. Cheetahs are lankier than the “cat” shape.
  5. Leopards hunt at night. Cheetahs hunt during the day.
  6. Leopards like to drag prey up trees. Cheetahs prefer grassy plains.
  7. Leopards rely on stealth. Cheetahs rely on speed (up to 115km/hr) over short distances. They are the world’s fastest animal.
  8. Leopards have strong teeth and jaws and can crunch through thick bones. Cheetahs have smaller teeth and jaws, leaving a larger nasal cavity for rapid breathing. They cannot crunch large bones.
  9. Leopards live a solitary life and cheetahs leave as a family.
  10. Leopards climb trees for they have retractable claws while cheetahs don’t.
  11. The cheetah can run at a speed of 112km/hr while leopards do 65km/hr.
  12. The two black lines below the eyes of the cheetah are known as tear marks and act as reflection absorbers while they are hunting during sunny days.

And finally coming to the very point that started this whole meowing, trilling and purring around… The coat prints! Just look at the image below, it’s self-explanatory.

For those who are more curious to know about the rest of the wild cat family, this last one is for you guys.

If you think this post was educational, interesting and useful, do make a silent wish for my next exam to go well. I badly need some. If you think my posts are getting boring by the day, then you probably need a break. Please close your browser and go to sleep. That will be all for now, people. Stay tuned and have a happy weekend! Cheers!


Edit (24 May 2017): My apologies for not including the sources or references from where I had picked up my facts from. I was way too amateurish back in 2012. That’s my best excuse. Deal with it.

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