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Nils Olav - A Very Distinguished Penguin

Updated on January 27, 2012

Sir Nils Olav was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and currently serves in the Norwegian army as a colonel-in-chief, in the Hans Majestet Kongens Garde. His years of service began in 1972. Perhaps you say that this is nothing remarkable. Ah, but I say it is. You see, Colonel-in-Chief Sir Nils Olav is a king penguin.

Nils Olave Inspecting the King's Guard
Nils Olave Inspecting the King's Guard | Source

Despite his role in the Norwegian army, he is currently residing in Edinburgh zoo in Scotland, and is also the Norwegian Royal Guard's official mascot.

In 1961, the Royal Guard visited the Edinburgh Military Tattoo for a drill display, and one of the lieutenants (Nils Egelien) took an interest in the local zoo's penguin exhibit. When the guards returned to Scotland in 1972, he convinced the zoo to allow the unit to adopt a king penguin which would serve as their mascot.

The adorable animal was visited by the soldiers of the Norwegian Royal Guard and was named in honour of both the man who took such an interest in him to begin with, and Norway's King Olav V.

Bronze Statue of Nils Olav in Edinburgh Zoo
Bronze Statue of Nils Olav in Edinburgh Zoo | Source

He was given the rank of visekorporal (i.e. lance corporal), and each time the King's Guard revisits the Edinburgh Tattoo, he receives a promotion. He was made corporal in 1982, and in 1987 was promoted to sergeant. He died shortly after becoming a sergeant, and his place was taken by his two-year-old near-double, Nils Olav 2. In 1993 he was made regimental sergeant major, and on the eighteenth of August 2005, was promoted to Colonel-in-Chief. On the fifteenth of August, 2008, he was awarded a knighthood, which had been pre-approved by the king of Norway, King Harald V. The citation given by King Harald described Nils Olav as a penguin "in every way qualified to receive the honour and dignity of knighthood." Along with the guardsmen, hundreds of people crowded into the zoo to witness Sir Nils Olav's knighting.

Needless to say, he is the only penguin to have ever received such an honour from the Norwegian army.

In recognition of his achievement, a four-foot-high (1.2 meters) bronze statue depicting Nils Olav was erected in Edinburgh Zoo. The inscription on the statue recognises the King's Guard and the Military Tattoo. There is also a statue to be seen at the Royal Norwegian Guard Compound at Huseby in Oslo.

Adorable Baby King Penguin
Adorable Baby King Penguin | Source


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    • VendettaVixen profile image

      VendettaVixen 6 years ago from Ireland


      Very much agreed. Nils Olave has to be the cutest bird ever. Imagine being one of the soldiers who has to stand to attention and be inspected by Sir Nils Olave when he recieves a promotion! Adorable, but I would think it's difficult to keep a straight face.

      I think the English have a billy goat? I can't remember his name right this minute, but perhaps that's another hub subject for the future.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Angie - much appreciated.

    • VendettaVixen profile image

      VendettaVixen 6 years ago from Ireland


      They're a great animal - plenty of class, but heaps of moxie, too.

      Glad you found my hub interesting enough to warrent a read and a comment - thank you.

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 6 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Hi VV - what a remarkable story! I just love anything to do with animals and birds, especially when they are being cute or clever.

      Mascot animals are quite usual with the armed forces but I think Nils Olaf takes the accolade as the most unusual. He fully deserves his knighthood ... rather more than some of the humans who get it, I suspect :)

    • profile image

      gogogo 6 years ago

      Penguins are one of my favorites, enjoyed the hub.

    • VendettaVixen profile image

      VendettaVixen 6 years ago from Ireland


      Me too. Definatly one of my favourite animals. I appreciate you reading and commenting - Thank you. Delighted you enjoyed it.

    • VendettaVixen profile image

      VendettaVixen 6 years ago from Ireland


      That's exactly what I was thinking when I wrote this hub. Great minds? Thank you for your brilliant comment and for taking the time to read my piece.

    • Scatteredmusings profile image

      Scatteredmusings 6 years ago from Brandon, Florida

      I love penquins, great article

    • Man from Modesto profile image

      Man from Modesto 6 years ago from Kiev, Ukraine (formerly Modesto, California)

      Yes, but, wouldn't a penguin be a more appropriate mascot for the Marines? Or the submariners? Or even the navy?

      Seriously, enjoyable article. Voted up.