May 10, 2016

Meet Sir Nils Olav. King Penguin and Colonel-in-Chief of the Norwegian Royal Guard

sir nils olav king penguin and colonel in chief of the norwegian royal guard (1)

Photograph by Mark Owens


On August 15, 2008, Nils Olav, a King penguin at Scotland’s Edinburgh Zoo was awarded knighthood. Sir Nils Olav is recognized as the King’s Guard’s mascot and carries the official title of, ‘Colonel-in-Chief of the Norwegian Royal Guard’.



Roald Amundsen


The origin of this peculiar story dates back to 1913 when legendary Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen presented Edinburgh Zoo with its first ever King penguin to herald its grand opening.

Amundsen was the first person to reach the South Pole on December 14, 1911. He was also the first expedition leader for the air expedition to the North Pole and is recognized, without dispute, as the first person to have reached both poles.

And for good measure, he is also known as having the first expedition to traverse the Northwest Passage (1903–06) in the Arctic. [source]


sir nils olav king penguin and colonel in chief of the norwegian royal guard (2)

Photograph by Lee Carson


According to Wikipedia:

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. [source]