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Animals & Attractions

King Penguin

We are currently home to a bachelor group of king penguins.

King penguins were one of the very first species to be kept at Edinburgh Zoo.  They were first bred at the Zoo in 1919, which was the first captive breeding of this species anywhere in the world.  For these reasons, a king penguin can be seen on the Zoo’s logo and on the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s crest.

Breeding Programme Category:

Our king penguins are managed by the European Stud Book programme which is monitored by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.

Location in the Zoo:

Our king penguin colony can be found at Penguins Rock


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Not Endangered NE
Data Deficient DD
Least Concern LC
Near Threatened NT
Vulnerable VU
Endangered EN
Critically Endangered CR
Extinct in the wild EW
Extinct EX

Least Concern

For more info on classifications visit


Relative to 6ft (2m) man Relative to 6ft (2m) man


Population increasing, IUCN May 2012


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Piscivore Piscivore
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In The Wild

King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) are found on sub-Antarctic islands. They are closely related to Emperor penguins, which live in the Antarctic and are larger than King penguins.

Both species lay only one egg and incubate it on top of their feet, but unlike the Emperor penguin, both the male and female King penguin will share incubation duties and take care of the chick when it hatches.

King penguin chicks are very unusual-looking for the first year of their lives, as they have very shaggy, brown feathers and can appear to be even larger than their parents.

King penguins eat small fish and squid. They normally dive to 50 metres, however they can dive very deeply to hunt their prey—sometimes up to 300 metres, far deeper than any other penguin species other than Emperor penguins.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, they were heavily hunted for oil, blubber, eggs and skins. However following the ban of commercial hunting, the king penguin populations have bounced back, with most breeding locations becoming home to large, secure colonies.

In more recent years, with increased human activity around the sub-Antarctic islands, there is an increasing risk of the introduction of a disease, pest or predator that could do a lot of harm to the breeding populations.

Meet our king penguins

Meet our most famous penguin...

One of the king penguins at Edinburgh Zoo is very special. His name is Sir Nils Olav and he has been awarded an honorary colonel-in-chief of the Kings Guard in the Norwegian army, he was knighted in 2008 and has just been promoted again to ‘Brigadier’ in August 2016. He is very proud of this and when the guardsman visit him he especially enjoys inspecting the guards and listening to the bandsmen.

>Find out more about Sir Nils Olav...

Sir Nils Olav

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