Nils Olav

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Coordinates: 55°56′40″N 3°16′20″W / 55.94444°N 3.27222°W / 55.94444; -3.27222

Nils Olav III
Nils Olav wide.jpg
SpeciesKing penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus)
HatchedEdinburgh, Scotland
ResidenceEdinburgh Zoo
Named afterNils Egelien & Olav V of Norway
Military career
Allegiance Norway
Service/branchNorwegian army coat of arms.svg Norwegian Army
Years of service
  • 1972–1987 (first)
  • 1987 – after 2008 (second)
  • before 2016 – present (third)[1]
RankArmy-NOR-OF-06.svg Brigadier
UnitHans Majestet Kongens Garde (Colonel-in-chief and mascot)

Brigadier Sir Nils Olav III is a king penguin who resides in Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland. He is the mascot[2][3][4] 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.[1][5]

Role in the military[edit]

The family of Norwegian shipping magnate Christian Salvesen gifted a king penguin to Edinburgh Zoo when the zoo opened in 1913.[2]

When the Norwegian King's Guard visited the Edinburgh Military Tattoo of 1961 for a drill display,[6] a lieutenant named Nils Egelien became interested in the zoo's penguin colony. When the King's Guard returned to Edinburgh in 1972, Egelien arranged for the regiment to adopt a penguin. This penguin was named Nils Olav in honour of Nils Egelien and King Olav V of Norway.[2]

Sir Nils inspects troops of the King's Guard, of which he is colonel-in-chief, following his knighthood ceremony in 2008. Military insignia is attached to his right flipper.

Nils Olav was initially given the rank of visekorporal (lance corporal) in the regiment. He has been promoted each time the King's Guard has returned to the zoo. In 1982 he was made a corporal, and promoted to sergeant in 1987.[2] Nils Olav I died shortly after his promotion to sergeant in 1987, and his place was taken by Nils Olav II, a two-year-old near-double. He was promoted in 1993 to the rank of regimental sergeant major and in 2001 promoted to 'honourable regimental sergeant major'.[2] On 18 August 2005, he was appointed as colonel-in-chief of the same regiment.[2][7] The next honour was a knighthood, awarded during a visit by soldiers from the Norwegian King's Guard on 15 August 2008.[8] The knighthood was approved by King Harald V and Nils was the first penguin to receive such an honour in the Norwegian Army.[9] During the ceremony a crowd of several hundred people watched the 130 guardsmen on parade at the zoo, and a citation from the King was read out, which described Nils as a penguin "in every way qualified to receive the honour and dignity of knighthood".[10]

The bronze statue of Nils Olav

During the 2005 visit, a 4-foot-high (1.2 m) bronze statue of Nils Olav was presented to Edinburgh Zoo.[2] The statue's inscription includes references to both the King's Guard and to the Military Tattoo. A statue also stands at the King's Guard compound at Huseby, Oslo.

A third penguin, Nils Olav III, took over at some point between 2008 and 2016.[1] On 22 August 2016 he was promoted to brigadier in a ceremony attended by over 50 members of the King's Guard.[1][2][11] Nils Olav now outranks Nils Egelien.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "King penguin made a Brigadier in Edinburgh". BBC News. 22 August 2016. Retrieved 22 August 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Sir Nils Olav". Edinburgh Zoo. Retrieved 21 February 2018.
  3. ^ Panganiban, Roma (4 April 2013). "Sir Nils Olav, Norway's Penguin Knight". Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  4. ^ "Military penguin becomes a 'sir'". BBC. 15 August 2008. Retrieved 4 June 2013.
  5. ^ "Norwegian Knight". Scandinavian Press. 15 (4). Fall 2008. p. 9.
  6. ^ The Edinburgh Military Tattoo Programme 1961
  7. ^ Norwegian Consulate in Edinburgh.
  8. ^ "King penguin receives Norwegian knighthood". 15 August 2008. NBC News. Retrieved 13 June 2010. (Archived on 13 June 2010)
  9. ^ "Penguin power: Norwegian regiment honours pint-sized chief". Sydney: ABC News. 16 August 2008.
  10. ^ "Military penguin becomes a 'Sir'". BBC News. 15 August 2008. Retrieved 14 August 2008.
  11. ^ "Nils Olav the most famous king penguin in the world, parades his way to a new honour". Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. 22 August 2016. Retrieved 24 August 2016.
  12. ^ "Sir Nils Olav". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 3 January 2020.

External links[edit]