Sir Nils Olav

Colonel-in-Chief Sir Nils Olav is a king penguin who resides in Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland. He is the mascot and Colonel-in-Chief of the Norwegian Royal Guard. Nils was visited by soldiers from the Norwegian Royal Guard on 15 August 2008 and awarded knighthood. The honour was approved by King Harald V. During the ceremony a crowd of several hundred people joined the 130 guardsmen at the zoo to hear a citation from the King read out, which described Nils as a penguin “in every way qualified to receive the honour and dignity of knighthood”. The name ‘Nils Olav’ has also been given to two other king penguins who preceded the current Nils Olav as the King’s Guard’s mascot.

When the Norwegian King’s Guard visited the Edinburgh Military Tattoo of 1961 for a drill display, a lieutenant called Nils Egelien became interested in Edinburgh Zoo’s penguin colony. When the Guards once again returned to Edinburgh in 1972, he arranged for the unit to adopt a penguin. This penguin was named Nils Olav in honour of Nils Egelien, and King Olav V of Norway.

Sir Nils Olav was given the rank of visekorporal (lance corporal) and has been promoted each time the King’s Guard has returned to the zoo. In 1982 he was made corporal, and promoted to sergeant in 1987. Nils Olav died shortly after his promotion to sergeant, and his place of honour was taken by Nils Olav II, his two-year-old near-double. He was promoted in 1993 to the rank of regimental sergeant major. On 18 August 2005, he was appointed as Colonel-in-Chief and on 15 August 2008 he was awarded a knighthood. He is the first penguin to receive such an honour in the Norwegian Army. At the same time a 4-foot-high (1.2 m) bronze statue of Nils Olav was presented to Edinburgh Zoo. The statue’s inscription recognises the King’s Guard and the Military Tattoo. A statue also stands at the Royal Norwegian Guard compound at Huseby, Oslo.

In Norway he is consistently referred to only as the mascot of the King’s Guard, although the plaque on his statue refers to his appointment as Colonel-in-Chief.