Gorillas and leopards are two common wildlife species in Africa. One leopard subspecies, in particular, can share the habitat with the great apes.
If these two mammals were to engage in a fight, who would come out victorious?
Gorillas and leopards can grow to similar body lengths, but the apes are about three times heavier. They are stronger physically than leopards and also have a stronger bite. Gorillas’ greatest weakness is their mostly docile temperament. Leopards are used to hunting prey by stealth and could take a gorilla by surprise. Both species have chances to win the fight.
The table below shows a quick list of facts and strength comparison between leopards and gorillas*:
|Body size||5 to 6 feet||3 to 6.3 feet|
|Weight||150 to 500 pounds||62 to 198 pounds|
|Paw size||Approx. 6 x 12 inches||Approx. 3.5 inches across|
|Speed||25 miles per hour||36 miles per hour|
|Strike force||Up to 12,500 lb.-ft./s||Up to 7,128 lb.-ft./s|
|Teeth size||2 inches||2 inches|
|Bite force||1,300 PSI||1,000 PSI|
|Diet||Primarily herbivore||Strict carnivore|
|Geographic range||Equatorial Africa||Africa, Middle East, Asia|
|Habitat||Tropical or mountain cloud forests||Tropical and subtropical regions, forests, grasslands, savannas, deserts, mountainous regions|
|Conservation status||Critically endangered||Vulnerable|
*Data in the table was sourced from research papers, scientific journals, wildlife magazines, and other official sources cited throughout the article. Strength data refers to averages for gorilla and leopard species as a whole. Specific data might vary from one subspecies to another.
Strike forces are based on the top weight for each species multiplied by the top weight gorillas and leopards can reach.
Table of Contents
13 Differences Between Gorillas and Leopards
Gorillas and leopards can live in the same habitat, but these species are very different from one another.
Gorillas are great apes and members of the Hominidae family, together with other great apes and humans.
There are currently two extant gorilla species, eastern gorillas (Gorilla beringer) and western gorillas (Gorilla gorilla). Each of these two species is further divided into two subspecies.
Leopards (Panthera pardus) are big cats and belong to the Felidae family. They are related to lions, tigers, and jaguars, all these big cats being part of the Panthera genus.
Currently, there are nine recognized leopard subspecies in the world, but only one – the African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) – can occur in the same areas as gorillas.
2. Body Size
Even if they belong to different species, gorillas and leopards are similar in size – at least, in terms of body length.
Gorillas typically grow about 5 to 6 feet tall. Leopards are about 3 to 6.3 feet long.
Persian leopards are the largest of all leopard subspecies. African leopards aren’t much smaller than the Persian ones, but they can be shorter than gorillas when standing on their hind legs.
The morphology of these two species is also different.
Gorillas are typically more muscular than leopards, yet, they aren’t predators. This gives leopards an advantage, making them one of the few gorilla predators.
Leopards and gorillas may have similar lengths, but, as mentioned, gorillas are more muscular. This translates into a higher body mass.
In fact, gorillas are about three times heavier than leopards, weighing between 150 and 500 pounds. Meanwhile, leopards weigh between 62 and 198 pounds.
In both species, males are larger and heavier than females, so a large leopard male and a small gorilla female or juvenile gorilla could have similar hefts.
4. Paw Size
Size aside, another striking difference between leopards and gorillas is the size of their paws.
Leopards have rather small paws. The tracks are round in shape and measure around 3.5 inches across.
Gorillas have hands and feet similar to those of humans. They aren’t bipedal but have a relatively erect posture when moving – even though they also use their hands in locomotion, known as knuckle-walking.
A gorilla’s hands and feet are similar in appearance and size, typically measuring 6 by 12 inches. To put things into perspective, the average adult male hand measures 3.5 by 7.6 inches.
Leopard tracks are about as large as the average male’s hand width, whereas a gorilla’s hand is about twice the size of a human hand.
Gorilla and leopard tracks are very easy to tell apart, thanks to the humanoid form of the former and cat paw print shape of the latter.
Gorillas have had the upper hand up to this point, but leopards actually come first in the speed department.
Leopards are a big cat species and strict carnivores. They are predators typically hunting ungulates, which are known to be fast.
Thus, leopards have to be fast too, or they wouldn’t be able to catch prey.
While they aren’t as fast as lions, tigers, or cheetahs, they can still reach speeds up to 36 miles per hour. Some of the strongest individuals could even reach 40 miles per hour for short distances.
Gorillas are herbivores and, thanks to their massive size, have few natural predators. They can still move fast for their size – at speeds of around 25 miles per hour – but they are no match for the big cats.
Speed aside, leopards also have other aces up their sleeves. They can leap up to 20 feet into the air and are agile tree climbers.
Gorillas can’t usually jump more than their own height, and they are mostly ground dwellers – even though they can climb – because of their size.
6. Strike Force
Scientists are yet to calculate the actual strike forces of most mammals, gorillas and leopards included.
However, anyone can calculate the force at the moment of the impact (momentum) by multiplying the body mass by speed.
Because both body mass and speed are variables, the actual strike force will vary from one individual to another.
For comparison purposes, we considered the top speed for each mammal and the heaviest weight mentioned for each species.
According to these parameters, gorillas have a strike force of about 12,500 lb.-ft./s (388 pounds of force). Leopards are around two times weaker, with a strike force of only 7,128 lb.-ft./s (221 pounds of force).
7. Teeth Size
Gorillas and leopards are similar in size, and, apparently, their fangs have the same length, too.
Leopards have sharp and strong canines that are about two inches long. Gorilla canine teeth grow to similar lengths.
However, the two mammals use their teeth differently.
As predators, leopards use their sharp teeth to catch and kill prey. Gorillas mostly use their fangs for display when defending themselves from predators or warding off intruders from their territories.
8. Bite Force
Gorillas might use their large teeth and mouths mostly for display purposes, but they can also inflict serious injuries if needed.
In fact, they can bite with a force of up to 1,300 PSI. This is one of the greatest bite forces in the mammal world, higher than that of tigers and lions but second to jaguars.
Leopards also have a strong bite, but they can only muster around 1,000 PSI of bite force.
There also seem to be conflicting results regarding the leopard bite forces measured by various researchers, with some studies mentioning a weaker force of around 500 PSI.
Because the actual bite force is influenced by things such as jaw size and facial muscle strength, these differences could be the result of various leopard sizes (and even subspecies) involved in each study.
Regardless of the actual bite force, gorillas have a stronger bite, but leopards could still take down adult gorillas.
Leopards may not be stronger than gorillas, but they have what it needs to take prey down.
As carnivores, leopards are expert hunters that usually stalk prey and ambush it from above. This doesn’t mean gorillas are defenseless.
The apes are social animals that can band together in groups of up to 15 individuals. Each group has a dominant male (silverback gorilla) that is very strong.
Not only is a gorilla band stronger than a leopard, but gorillas also make hooting sounds to alarm other group members of potential danger.
Leopards, on the other hand, are solitary creatures. They are also the smallest big cat in the Panthera genus, meaning that a leopard is no match for a silverback gorilla.
However, a leopard can still successfully attack and take down a female or juvenile gorilla.
While gorillas have scary looks, the truth is that they are mostly docile herbivores. These apes live their lives peacefully and only turn aggressive when sensing danger or defending their territories.
Their diet consists mostly of leaves and fruits. Gorillas may also eat insects, wood bark, mushrooms, and dung.
As big cats, leopards are strict carnivores. Due to their solitary nature and relatively small size, they are ambush predators that pounce the prey before it has a chance to react.
Because leopards are not as fast as other big cats – and sometimes not as fast as their prey of choice – these cats generally don’t chase prey after the first pounce.
Instead, they grab it with their paws and bite and break their necks, causing paralysis.
Typically, leopards prey on mid-sized ungulates such as gazelles, deer, and small antelopes. However, they are opportunists that also attack primates – gorillas included – pigs and domestic livestock.
11. Geographic Range
Gorillas occur in equatorial Africa. Western gorillas live in different geographic ranges, from the lowlands near the coast of Cameroon to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Eastern or mountain gorillas are only found in a small area near the Virunga volcanoes that separate Congo from Uganda and Rwanda.
African leopards occur in almost all habitats across Africa. Other leopard species are found in Asia and the Middle East.
Gorillas typically live in lowland tropical forests, even though some types prefer mountain cloud forests at elevated altitudes.
Leopards aren’t that fussy about their habitat.
The big cat can be found in rainforests, deserts, savannas, grasslands, mountainous regions, and other areas with abundant prey and some cover that enables them to stalk and ambush prey.
13. Conservation Status
Both gorillas and leopards are threatened with extinction, but gorillas are more likely to disappear in the near future.
Habitat reduction decreased the numbers of most of the wild species in Africa. Gorillas are deemed critically endangered, and the population number is decreasing for both western and eastern gorillas.
Leopards are vulnerable, and their population is decreasing, according to the IUCN.
Who Would Win A Fight?
Gorillas and leopards have different assets that can help any of the two species to win.
The apes have the size and strength on their side. They are more massive than leopards, can pack a punch, and have a stronger bite than the big cats.
Leopards are agile predators that typically hunt by stealth. They stalk and often attack their prey from above, jumping on their backs from a tree.
Who would win the fight would largely depend on the situation.
If the two mammals were to come face to face, gorillas are more likely to win. The leopard wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the surprise factor, and the apes are a lot stronger.
However, a leopard attacking a gorilla from above or its back is likely to come out victorious by breaking the gorilla’s neck or severing its jugular artery.