Arguably the most beautiful wild cat species on earth, the African leopard is as mysterious as it is beautiful.

Millions of tourists flock to Africa every year in hopes of catching a glimpse of a leopard in the wild. Here’s why!

What is the African leopard?

The leopard is one of Africa’s Big Five animals and one of only three big cat species found on the continent.

They are an elusive species, which are difficult to spot in the wild and because of this are a very sought after sighting while on safari.

Beautiful African Leopard | Alissa Thakker (@alissatphotos)

Leopard vs Cheetah

The African leopard is often confused with the cheetah, however these are two very different species. Once you’ve taken a look at the differences, it will be hard to every confuse them again!

Cheetahs are tall and slender, with solid black spots all over their body. They have long tails with a black tip, and two black lines on either side of their nose. These mimic the lines that tear drops would follow.


How big are leopards?

For what some might consider as a medium sized big cat, the African leopard is actually quite large. An adult male can reach 80cm at the shoulder and more than 7ft. (2m+) in length.  Females are slightly smaller and usually max out at around 2.5 ft. (70cm tall).

Leopards are heavy-bodies cats with powerful muscles. The weight of an adult male African leopard can reach up to 200lbs. (90kg) in some areas, and females average around 130lbs (60kg).

Leopard Spots

African leopards are characterized by a low-set profile, with a large head, sleek build and a long tail. With a strong argument for being the most beautiful of all big cats, the leopard boasts a golden-brown coat covered with exquisitely designed dark markings. Rather than true spots, these are irregular markings called rosettes.

Get To Know The African Leopard
Large male leopard resting in a tree after a meal | Aditya Nair (@aditya.wildlife)

Rosettes differ slightly between geographic locations and tend to be circular in east African leopards, but more square in southern African leopards.

Leopard Tail

Leopards have a very long, tubular shape tail which can be up to 3ft. (1m) in length. They use their tails to help them balance while climbing trees, or as a rudder which helps them pivot during high speed pursuits of prey items.

A leopard’s tail is also one of its most powerful communication tools. They can frequently be seen wrapping tails around each other, or running them along one another’s face. This is often seen in mother and cub interactions. Mother leopards also use their tails as a guide for their cubs to follow when moving through long grass or thick bush.

Leopard running down the trunk of a large tree | Rian Boshoff (@rianboshoff)

Leopard Eyes

Leopard cubs are born blind, and their eyes only open after a couple days. Their highly adapted retina means their vision is roughly seven times better at night than a human’s.


What do leopard’s eat?

African leopards are carnivores and prey on small to medium sized mammals and reptiles. Their diet mostly consists of Impala, but they will also regularly prey on warthog, baboon, pythons, monitor lizards and even fish.