Norway Knights A King… Penguin

A few years ago The Penguin Post brought attention to the special tale of waddling Sargent Major Nils Olav of the Norwegian Royal Guard, but this past October Nils Olav – yes, he’s a king penguin at Edinburgh Zoo, is being made a Sir.   The story goes back to 1913 when a famous Norwegian family presented the zoo with its first king penguin.   In 1972, a young lieutenant of the Norwegian Royal Guard visited the zoo and adopted a king penguin as a mascot, bestowing on him the rank of Lance Corporal.

He was named Nils Olav after a soldier, Nils Egelien, and Norway‘s then King Olav.  Since then he has risen through the ranks of Corporal, Sergeant, Regimental Sergeant-Major, Honorable Sergeant Major and, in 2005, Honorary Colonel-in-Chief. Now, with the approval of the King of Norway, King Harald V, he is being made a Knight.  All of which might sound a bit bizarre. All the more so when you witness the pomp and ceremony that goes with it.  Media have been issued with a programme of events that would put our own royal planners to shame. A welcome ceremony is being performed by HM The King’s Guard Band, followed by speeches from the great and good of Norway’s military.

Then, to a fanfare, Nils Olav himself arrives under escort from the King’s Guard Color Detachment for his promotion ceremony.

“Nils always recognizes the Norwegian Guardsmen when they come to visit him,” said Darren McGarry, the zoo’s animal collection manager.

“They came in recently and he immediately walked towards the gate. He loves the attention he receives at the ceremony and even takes time to inspect the troops.”  The incumbent penguin is the second one to fill the role since 1972, as the average lifespan of the penguin is about 20 years.

It all takes a suspension of disbelief – indeed, you might ask: “Are you having Olav?”  To which there is only one reply: “That’ll be Sir Olav to you.”

Sir Nils Olav inspects the troops.


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