There are some animals that are so unique that they are difficult to describe. A warthog is really just a warthog. The body is shaped like a gym bound pig. Short, they stand about 40 centimetres at the shoulder, yet they are sturdy and solid looking reflecting their
weight. A full-grown warthog can weight up to 100kg. Males weigh more than females. This calculates to a body mass index of about 700. Doctors are worried when your body mass index, a calculation that divides your weight by the square of your height, is above 30.
But the real distinguishing feature of a warthog is the disproportionately large head, which has thick pads on either side of the face.
Then just behind the snout again on either side tusks emerge. The upper tusks form a semi-circle, while the lower tusks are sharpened to act as a sharp cutting tool. Warthogs eat mainly grass, kneeling down to reach the short grass but are also known to dig for bulbs and tubers during the dry season. And they can run.
You may think that because it looks like a domestic pig it is fat. The warthog is not and has only a thin layer of insulating fat in the skin. In the wild they are seen with the characteristic tail held 90 degrees upright, like a flag. In full sprint the warthog reaches a speed of 55 kilometres per hour.
A different animal all together but still very familiar is the housefly, Musca domestica. Originally a native of central Asia, today the housefly is found anywhere humans are found.
Today the housefly is a cosmopolitan pest adapted to living in both urban and rural areas. This is because its favourite food is found in animal faeces.
On the farm it thrives on chicken and cow manure. In urban areas, kitchen waste will do, though a gourmet meal is to find human faeces, which typically has a lot of nutrients from a fly perspective. The housefly is 5 to 8 mm long, with the female usually larger than the male. The way to tell a female fly from a male fly is to look into its eyes. In the female fly the eyes are wide apart, whereas in the male the eyes almost touch.
Despite the contrasting lifestyles, both animals have a fairly constant life. The adult housefly usually lives for between 15 to 30 days. It lives longer if there is access to suitable food especially sugar and will not mate unless food is present. The warthog on the other hand lives for about 15 years, if a predator does not catch it.
The animals obey a rule in nature that suggests that the larger the animal the longer it lives. So many insects live a matter of days, while larger animals such as elephants live in decades.
Human beings are an exception, when viewed from body weight perspective. Not only is the figure relatively high but globally, male and female life expectancy has increased from 56.4 years and 61.2 years respectively to 67.5 years and 73.3 years in the decade from 1990 to 2010.
This increase in life expectancy has mainly been because of significant reduction in child deaths associated with communicable diseases such as diarrhoea. While Kenya has to an extent benefited from a reduction in child deaths, it has not followed the world wide trend in improving life expectancy. Life expectancy for females in Kenya was 61.25 years
in 1990 and dropped to 58.26 years in 2011. The major contributing factors continue to be HIV/Aids, malaria, communicable diseases and inequality in health service provision.
An increase in life expectancy is however not the end of the story. The quality of the additional years is also important. Here is the major difference between a communicable disease and a non-communicable disease.
A communicable disease like malaria asks you to make up your mind. Do you fight it or go? Within 10-14 days of being bitten by a mosquito the malaria will rage in the body and a week later you will either be cured or dead.
A non-communicable disease like diabetes or hypertension creeps up on. Years of increasing weight become overweight, then obesity. The blood sugar control deteriorates over a period of time.
Once the disease sets in there is still time to reverse it but eventually a new setting point exists then the complications come in one at a time. Many people live longer but not at full health because of a non-communicable disease.
So whereas the fly can move from one seemingly unhealthy meal to the next eating all kinds of sugar, faecal matter and so on, it does so in the knowledge that next week it will be dead anyway. The warthog has a greater appreciation of life and tries to live a healthier life. So when you see a warthog flying its tail flag high, don't laugh — it has reason to.