Pembury Tours Logo

Africa’s Big Cats


There are 36 to 42 species of wild cats on the planet, of these species, only seven are considered “Big Cats”.  Africa is home to three of these seven species of “Big Cats”, namely the lion, leopard and cheetah.

These big cats are the ultimate solo hunters, relying on their specially adapted bodies and instincts to hunt down their prey. As apex predators, these cats are leaders of their eco-system – if they are do well, the ecosystem does well, and vice versa.

The main difference between big cats and their relative smaller cats is the sounds they make. Smaller cats purr while the bigger cats roar (with the exception of the cheetah).

Here are our top facts about Africa’s three Big Cats:

The African Lion

Interesting Facts

  • Nicknamed the “King of Beasts” or the “King of the Jungle”, most lions can be found in Southern and Eastern Africa.
  • Some lions across Eastern Africa have adapted to the heat by climbing trees.
  • A lion’s roar can be heard 8km (5 miles) away!
  • Male lions have a distinctive mane that attract the lionesses.
  • Lionesses are better hunters and do most of the hunting.
  • Lions can live for about 12 years in the wild.


Lions prefer grasslands, savanna and open woodlands.

Weight and Speed

Lions are the 2nd largest cat species in the world (behind tigers) and the biggest cat species in Africa. Male lions can weigh up to 181 kg (400 pounds) with the smaller female weighing in at around 131 kg (290 pounds). Despite their size, lions can reach speeds of up to 80 km/h (50mph) in short bursts.


Unlike many cat species, lions are extremely sociable. Their prides consist of siblings, half siblings or even strangers. There is no unanimous agreement on as to why these coalitions are formed, but most suspect it’s to pass on the strongest genes.

Predators and Prey

Lions are nocturnal creatures and are found at the top of their food chain, but individuals can be attacked and killed by hyenas or even buffalo during hunting. They are ambush hunters, lying and waiting for prey before attacking, and prey on virtually any other wildlife in their range.

The African Leopard

Interesting Facts

  • Elegant and powerful predators, leopards can drag a kill heavier than their body weight.
  • They usually drag their food up a tree to avoid scavengers and other predators, like lions and hyenas.
  • Leopards are recognizable by their spots called “rosettes”.
  • Leopards have a secretive nature and are phenomenal at camouflaging
  • Leopards can see seven times better in the dark than humans.
  • Leopards communicate through a variety of sounds, including roars, hissing, purring and raspy coughing-like sounds.
  • Leopards are both excellent swimmers and climbers


Highly adaptable to many different environments, leopards prefer rainforests, deserts, woodlands, grasslands, savannas, forests, mountain habitats and swampy areas.

Weight and Speed

Female leopards can weigh up to 40 kg (88 pounds), while the males can weigh up to 59kg (130 pounds). These big cats can reach speeds of up to 56 km/h (35 mph) and can leap 6m through the air!


As with most of the cat species, leopard mothers are very protective of their young, staying with them until around 2 years old. They protect their cubs by hiding them in lairs, changing the lair location every couple of days to avoid detection.  Leopards are solitary creatures, each having their own territory.  Males and females will only cross territories to mate.

Predators and Prey

Leopards are nocturnal and ambush predators with a diet consisting of varied meat, from hyraxes and fish to reptiles and monkeys. Even though humans pose a great threat to these species, their main predators include lions, hyenas and even baboons, especially where their young are concerned.

The Cheetah 

Interesting Facts

  • Cheetahs are known for the black streaks down their face (tear marks) and slender build
  • The fastest land animal in the world, the cheetah reaches 100km/h in 3 seconds, the same as a racing car.
  • Cheetahs are the most vulnerable of the three big cats and all the sub-species are endangered. (Read our Cheetah blog to find out how you can help)
  • Cheetahs hunt during the day to avoid competition from other predators
  • Getting most of the water that they need from eating, cheetahs don’t need much water to survive.


Cheetahs prefer living in dry forests, grasslands, open plains and desert areas.

Weight and Speed

Exceeding speeds of 113km/h (70 mph) in short bursts, cheetahs use this speed to stalk and catch their prey. Being the smallest of the Big Cats, males can weigh up to 54 kg (120 pounds) while the smaller female can weigh around 34kg (75 pounds).


Cheetah are social animals, but adult females tend to be more solitary and only meet to mate with males.  Mothers will nurse their young (in a lair hidden by tall vegetation) until the cubs are between 16 – 24 months old.

Predators and Prey

Cheetahs are not hunted by other predators, however their prey also often gets stolen by other predators, like the hyena and lion. Not an ambush hunter, cheetahs stalk their prey and then sprints after it, catching it in record time. These creatures prefer small antelope for their prey.

Share this post

More From the Blog

Pembury Tours - Banner Pearls of Uganda - Uganda

The Pearls of Uganda ∣ Blog

The Pearls of Uganda Surrounded by phenomenal volcanic landscapes, visiting the ‘Pearl of Africa’ can feel like a privilege. The untamed beauty of the landlocked

Read More »

Quick Enquiry?

Fill in the form below and our team will be happy to assist you

    Contact Information

    +27 41 581 2581
    [email protected]