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Nils Olav the most famous king penguin in the world, parades his way to a new honour

22/08/2016 in Edinburgh Zoo

On Monday morning, 22 August, His Majesty the King of Norway’s Guard paid a very special visit to RZSS Edinburgh Zoo to bestow a unique honour upon our resident king penguin Sir Nils Olav. Already a knight, the most famous king penguin in the world was given the new title of “Brigadier Sir Nils Olav”.

The prestigious title was awarded during a special ceremony which was attended by over 50 uniformed soldiers of His Majesty the King of Norway’s Guard, who are taking part in The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo this year. Sir Nils paraded his way up Penguin Walk, whilst inspecting the soldiers of the Guard.

The regal, black, white and yellow bird is the mascot of His Majesty the King of Norway’s Guard and in 2008 was awarded a knighthood, an honour approved by King Harald V of Norway.

Nils Olav’s story goes back as far as 1972, when a king penguin at RZSS Edinburgh Zoo was named after two people: Major Nils Egelien, who organised his adoption by RZSS Edinburgh Zoo in 1972, and the then-King of Norway, King Olav. RZSS Edinburgh Zoo has had a long history with penguins and Norway, with the Norwegian family of Christian Salvesen presenting the Zoo with its first king penguins in 1914. Soon after, in 1919, the Zoo had the first successful hatching of a king penguin chick, the first outside of the South Atlantic. Since then, RZSS Edinburgh Zoo has been pioneering the science and care of penguins, and penguins have remained an iconic and integral part of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland ever since.

Barbara Smith, Acting Chief Executive Officer for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said: “We are honoured to host His Majesty the King of Norway’s Guard as they bestow a prestigious new title upon our king penguin, Sir Nils Olav. It is a very proud moment and represents the close collaboration between our two countries, Scotland and Norway.”

Brigadier David Allfrey, Producer and Chief Executive of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, added: “This is just a simply fantastic example of the great relations between our two countries, and it couldn’t be a more charming tradition.  At the Tattoo we of course have many inspecting officers but this is by far my favourite. Congratulations, Brigadier Olav!”

The Guardsmen visit Sir Nils every few years while they are in the city performing at The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and give him a new promotion. Since his adoption in 1972, he has worked his way up the ranks, starting at Mascot, before being promoted to Corporal in 1982, Sergeant in 1987, Regimental Sergeant Major in 1993, Honourable Regimental Sergeant Major in 2001, Colonel-in-Chief in 2005, Knighthood in 2008 and now Brigadier Sir.




Photos from the event can be found here:

These are free to use, please credit RZSS/Katie Paton.


A Facebook live stream is available here:

This is free to use, please credit RZSS.

More footage to follow shortly.


About RZSS Edinburgh Zoo and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland

  •          RZSS Edinburgh Zoo is set in 82 acres of sloping parkland, just a stones throw away from Edinburghs bustling city centre. In its 101 year history the Zoo has been home to many famous animal residents, more recently the UKs only giant pandas, Tian and Yang Guang, and UKs only koalas, including the first joey born on British soil in 2013
  •          RZSS Edinburgh Zoo is owned by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), a registered charity, charity no SC004064, which also owns RZSS Highland Wildlife Park.
  •          The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland was founded by visionary lawyer Thomas Gillespie, the Society was set up in 1909 ‘to promote, facilitate and encourage the study of zoology and kindred subjects and to foster and develop amongst the people an interest in and knowledge of animal life’. The Society still exists to connect people with nature and safeguard species from extinction.
  •          For further information on all our conservation projects and events, please visit our website – 
  •          RZSS Edinburgh Zoo is a member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA).  BIAZA represents its member collections and promotes the values of good zoos and aquariums.  For further information please telephone 020 7449 6351 

For further information please contact:

Gavrielle Kirk-Cohen, PR Coordinator for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, on 0131 314 0383 or

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