Meet Colonel-in-Chief Sir Nils Olav, a Knighted Penguin of the Norwegian King’s Guard

Did you know that Edinburgh Zoo is home to a knighted penguin? Meet Sir Nils Olav!

Nils Olav the Penguin inspects the Kings Guard of Norway after being bestowed with a knighthood at Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland. The King’s Guard adopted the penguin as their mascot in 1972 during a visit to Edinburgh for the annual Military Tattoo. The tradition has stuck and each time the Guards visit the city, Nils Olav is promoted and invited to inspect the troops. Photo: Mark Owens

Brigadier Sir Nils Olav III is a soldierly king penguin who resides in Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland. He serves as the mascot and colonel-in-chief of the Norwegian King’s Guard. The name ‘Nils Olav’ and associated ranks have been passed down through three king penguins since 1972 – the current holder being Nils Olav III.

Norway – whose famous explorer Roald Amundsen was the first person to reach the South Pole in 1911 – presented Edinburgh Zoo with its first king penguin at its opening in 1913.

When the Norwegian King’s Guard visited the Edinburgh Military Tattoo of 1961 for a drill display, a lieutenant named Nils Egelien began to show interest in the zoo’s penguin colony. When the King’s Guard returned to Edinburgh again in 1972, the lieutenant persuaded the regiment to adopt a penguin. This penguin was named Nils Olav in honour of Nils Egelien and King Olav V of Norway.

Becoming ‘Sir’ Nils Olav in 2008, in the presence of 130 guardsmen. The penguin’s new position was so important, his knighthood had to be approved by King Harald V of Norway! Photo: Edinburgh Zoo

Following his adoption, Nils was given the role of mascot for the Norwegian Guard and has quickly moved up the ranks:

1982 – Corporal
1987 – Sergeant
1993 – Regimental Sergeant Major
2001 – Honourable Regimental Sergeant Major
2005 – Colonel-in-Chief
2008 – Knighthood
2016 – Brigadier

He now outranks Nils Egelien. Here’s a video of him being promoted to Brigadier in 2016.

Nils is highly respected among the Norwegian Guardsman and has received these honours and medals due to his outstanding service and good conduct! The Guardsmen like to visit Nils every few years while they are in the city performing at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

And watching Nils inspecting them is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Sources: 1, 2

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