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The Penguin That Became a Knight

Updated on November 12, 2015

That headline is not a joke nor is it misleading in any way. Now, in the world, there is genuinely a penguin who has received a knighthood. His name is Nils Olav although, if you want to address him properly, you would have to refer to him as Sir Nils Olav. He is a king penguin, living at the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland. Despite this, his allegiance is to Norway, specifically the Norwegian Royal Guard where he attained the rank of Colonel-in-Chief. You can see him in the video below where he is busy inspecting the troops.

The actual truth is that Nils is the mascot for the Royal Guard. On August 15, 2008, a ceremony was held at the Edinburgh Zoo where Nils Olav was joined by 130 Norwegian guardsmen and hundreds of onlookers who were there to witness the penguin receive his knighthood. He even received a citation from Harald V, the actual King of Norway.

So how did a penguin end up rising through the ranks like this? And why is a penguin loyal to Norway living in Scotland? Well, actually, Norway’s ties to the Edinburgh Zoo go back all the way to 1913 when the zoo first opened and Norway gifted it its first king penguin. Since then, armed forced from all over the world would regularly come to Edinburgh in order to attend the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (which has nothing to do with actual tattoos; a military tattoo is a musical performancedone by military bands). In 1961, one lieutenant in the Norwegian Royal Guard called Nils Egelien also paid a visit to the Edinburgh Zoo and took an interest in the penguins there. He must have really liked penguins because the next time the Royal Guard came to Edinburgh, he arranged for them to adopt one of the penguins as their mascot. The lucky bird was named Nils Olav in honor of the lieutenant and of Olav V, then-King of Norway.

This happened all the way back in 1972 and the penguin was immediately given the rank of visekorporal (lance corporal). Since then, it has become a tradition for the penguin to receive a promotion each time the Royal Guard visit again. 10 years later he was promoted to corporal, then sergeant in 1987, then regimental sergeant major and so on. And now we arrive in the present when Nils Olav is not only a Colonel-in-Chief with the Royal Guard, but has also received a knighthood. If they keep this tradition for much longer, they are going to run out of titles to give him. If you are reading this a few years in the future, this is the story of how Norway ended up with a penguin for a king


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