NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Lots of people like to go to the Nashville Zoo during the warm weather months. But one of the more popular animals at the zoo, the red pandas, is something you can only see in the wintertime.

M.J. Foletta, a Nashville Zoo Carnivore Keeper introduced us to their two special residents:

“This is Rowan and Lilly,” Foletta explained, “These are our two residential Red Pandas here at the zoo. These guys are native to the Himalayas. So, they really thrive in cold weather. So, stuff like snow, rain, and all the sleet, all the fun stuff, and cold weather, they really, really thrive.”

And you pretty much have to come during the cold season.

“Honestly, if you come to the zoo in the summertime, you probably won’t see them,” Foletta said. “Anything above 75 degrees, pretty much it’s way too hot for them. These coats that they have here are really thick. They feel almost like a Scottish Terrier. So, really coarse. They’re not as soft as you would think they are. But it’s really thick. Helps them keep warm. And these really long tails that they have, also help keep them warm. They’ll wrap around it. So, they will use that tail to keep themselves extra warm. Kind of like a scarf.”

“I can’t tell you how many times people come up to me in the summer and say, ‘where are the red pandas?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m so sorry. They are inside today because it’s too hot.’ So, this time of year I know at the ticket booth a lot of guests will walk up and say ‘a lot of animals aren’t out.’ BUT the red pandas are out, and like everyone is pumped about it!”

As usual, the Nashville zoo is interested in producing offspring.

“We’re in the peak of their breeding season right now,” Foletta explained. “So, this is when these two are starting to kind of decide, ‘Okay, are we going to breed or not?’ The breeding season runs from mid-December to February. We usually anticipate cubs between April and June.”

“So they are part of the SSP Program. The SSP is the Species Survival Program. And basically, we have one person in charge of all the red pandas in North America. And so, with that, these two were paired together because genetically-wise they make a good pair. And their offspring are genetically valuable. So, they’ll contribute a lot to the population of red pandas in North America.”

And M.J. says that Rowan and Lilly are definitely taking an interest in one another this year. So, maybe by next year, we’ll see some cubs.

But there’s one more thing that she wants to point out.

“Everyone thinks giant pandas are super-cool,” Foletta said. “And giant pandas are cool. However, red pandas were discovered first. So, giant pandas were named after red pandas. So, this is the first panda. (laughs) It’s very important!”

You can tell that she is very proud of her buddies!

So grab your coat and head over to the Nashville Zoo and check out these cute critters.