Iowa Football

The Paulsens were good picks to hold the sloth during Iowa football's day at the San Diego Zoo

They have a cousin who's a zookeeper, and, as hunters with a farming background, conservation means a lot to them

Iowa Hawkeyes Landan Paulsen (left) smiles as he lens in for a closer look at Xena, a six-year-old female two-toed sloth
Iowa Hawkeyes Landan Paulsen (left) smiles as he lens in for a closer look at Xena, a six-year-old female two-toed sloth as she is held by San Diego Zoo lead keeper Kym (cq) Janke (right) while Levi Paulsen looks on during a visit to the San Diego Zoo in San Diego, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2019. The Hawkeyes take on the USC Trojans on Friday, Dec. 27. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

SAN DIEGO — Four Hawkeyes met Shakira at the San Diego Zoo on Christmas. Stand down, it wasn’t that Shakira.

The San Diego Zoo named one of its legless lizards “Shakira.” Yes, she is named after the famous pop star who has a hit called “Hips Don’t Lie.”

You see, the legless lizards, which, yes, look an awful lot like snakes, can slither and move like a famous pop star who’s sort of famous for her dancing.

Offensive linemen Levi and Landan Paulsen, linebacker Nick Niemann and defensive tackle Cedric Lattimore were picked to greet and maybe hold animals for the photo ops at the zoo.

Senior mammal keeper Kym Janke showed the fellas Shakira. They also met Jambo, a pygmy falcon who filled the room with happy chirps.

The star of the show was Xena the two-toed sloth. She smacked her lips as she chewed two-toed sloth food. The players were able to touch Xena’s hair, which was coarse, a little like pig hair.

The conversation wasn’t totally about the animals. Conservation came up more than a few times. This struck a chord with the Paulsens, who actually have a cousin who’s a zookeeper at the Omaha, Neb., zoo.

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Levi Paulsen graduated with a degree in environmental studies. The brothers are lifelong hunters and their grandparents farmed. The twins' father, Dan, has worked in soil conservation for 30-plus years.

They’re young people. Conservation is on the front of their mind.

When the topic of conservation came up, Landan talked about how 95 percent of Iowa’s wetlands are gone.

“It’s unbelievable the conservation efforts places like this zoo are going to provide for a more sustainable future for all of these animals and the world in general,” Levi said.

That conversation was sparked when Janke told the story about the deforestation of South America, where Xena is from. Sloths are easy prey on the ground. They can actually be quick when they need to be, but trees are their habitat.

“It’s not something that directly affects us, but in a way it does,” Levi said. “Everything is intertwined. It could be the food chain or food web in certain areas and continents.”

What does Levi Paulsen want to do with his environmental studies degree? He just finished an internship with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Iowa City.

“Who knows where that will take me?” he said. “I’d like to gander into the private sector and maybe find something in sustainable landscapes or even renewable energy.”

Playing in the Holiday Bowl

Best player in the bowl game? You know the Iowa entrants, defensive end A.J. Epenesa, offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs and quarterback Nate Stanley.

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For USC, it’s really hard to argue with wide receiver Michael Pittman’s numbers. The senior wide receiver is fourth in the nation with 95 receptions. His 1,222 yards are seventh in the country. He also has 11 TDs.

Immediately after the bowl was announced, Pittman tweeted that he was indeed playing in the bowl game. Nowadays, many players are skipping their bowl games to prepare for the draft. Iowa felt that sting when tight end Noah Fant announced his decision before the Outback Bowl last year.

With Pittman being a senior, this would’ve been the easy move. Instead, he’s playing his final game, you know, like everyone used to do.

“I mean, I don’t ever blame players for sitting out because it is their choice,” he said. “But I feel like as a captain that it’s my duty to finish with my team and help them and help them get this last win.”

Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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