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Penguin at Edinburgh Zoo promoted to Major General in Norway army

Sir Nils Olav promoted at Edinburgh Zoo.
Sir Nils Olav promoted at Edinburgh Zoo. Copyright Edinburgh Zoo
Copyright Edinburgh Zoo
By Joshua Askew
Published on Updated
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Major General Sir Nils Olav III, Baron of the Bouvet Islands, is now the most highly decorated penguin in the world - probably even the universe.

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A penguin has been promoted to the third highest rank in the Norwegian Armed Forces. 

Sir Nils Olav III, a resident of Penguin's Rock in Edinburgh Zoo, was given the honorary title of Major General in the King's Guard of Norway on Monday, as their official mascot. 

Some 160 uniformed soldiers visited the Scottish zoo to bestow the unique honour upon the king penguin, involving much military pomp and circumstance. 

The decorated bird, already a Brigadier, now has the grandiose title of Major General Sir Nils Olav III, Baron of the Bouvet Islands.

But the military big wig - who even wears his epaulettes - is one in a long line of king penguins to serve in the Norwegian Armed Forces. 

In 1961, the Norwegian King's Guard visited the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo for a drill and a lieutenant named Nils Egelien fell in love with the zoo's penguin colony.

He thought the march of his unit bore an uncanny resemblance to how the black and white bird walked.

A decade later when Egelien returned to the Scottish capital he arranged for King's Guard to adopt a penguin. This one was named Nils Olav in honour of Nils Egelien and King Olav V of Norway, who was on the throne at the time.

Each time the Scandinavian soldiers have visited Scotland their penguin has been promoted, though new birds have taken up the mantle from the old. 

The ceremonial troops also send fish and Christmas cards each year.

Edinburgh Zoo
Sir Nils Olav III's handlers at the zooEdinburgh Zoo

Following a carefully choreographed parade past His Majesty the King’s Guard Band and Drill Team of Norway, who are performing at The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo this year, Sir Nils was awarded his new badge at a special ceremony. 

The honour means he outranked the soldier he was named after in the 70s. 

"I am delighted to congratulate Sir Nils Olav III on his promotion to Major General,” said Jason Barrett, Chief Operating Officer at The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. 

He praised the "rich history, honour and tradition" brought by His Majesty's Kings Guard of Norway, saying they have been a "favourite fan for years". 

Three incarnations of Nils Olav have worked their way up the ranks. 

He began as a mascot in 1972, becoming corporal in 1982; sergeant in 1987; regimental sergeant major in 1993; honourable regimental sergeant major in 2001, and colonel-in-chief in 2005.

Edinburgh Zoo
His military decorationEdinburgh Zoo

The regal black, white and yellow bird was knighted in 2008 - personally approved by King Harald V of Norway himself - and became a brigadier in 2016. 

"His promotion this August, for good conduct and for being a superb example for the rest of the penguins at the Edinburgh Zoo, is a milestone in his career as mascot for the guard," said Staff Sergeant Fredrik Gresseth from His Majesty the King’s Guard Band and Drill Team of Norway. 

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The first king penguin itself was given to Edinburgh Zoo when it opened in 1913 by a Norwegian shipping magnate.  

David Field, Chief Executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, described Monday's ceremony as "a very proud moment and represents the ongoing close collaboration between our two countries, Scotland, and Norway." 

Officer Nils Egelien died on 11 December 2020, aged 87.

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