Animals & Attractions

Above: Sir Nils Olav after being promoted to Major General in 2023 in the presence of 120 guardsmen

Did you know that Edinburgh Zoo is home to a knighted penguin? Meet Major General Sir Nils Olav III!

When the Norwegian King's Guard visited the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in 1961 for a drill display, Major Nils Egelien fell in love with the zoo's penguin colony, with the regal march of the king penguins reminding him of how the Norwegian King’s Guard soldiers marched. When they returned to Edinburgh in 1972 Egelien arranged for the regiment to adopt a king penguin as their military mascot.

Sir Nils Olav is named after Major Nils Egelien and the King of Norway at the time, King Olav V.


The very model of a modern Major General

Following his adoption, Nils was given the role of mascot for the Norwegian King’s Guard and has quickly moved up the ranks:

1982 - Corporal
1987 - Sergeant
1993 - Regimental Sergeant Major
2001 - Honourable Regimental Sergeant Major
2005 - Colonel-in-Chief
2008 - Knighthood
2016 - Brigadier
2023 - Major General

Nils is regarded very highly among the Norwegian King’s Guardsman and has received his honours and medals due to his outstanding service and good conduct! The Guardsmen like to visit Nils every few years while they are in the city performing at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. They last visited in August 2023.

Some other facts you might not know about Major General Sir Nils Olav:

  • Sir Nils’ full title in the Norwegian King’s Guard is Major General Sir Nils Olav, Baron of the Bouvet Islands
  • Major General is the third highest rank in the Norwegian Army
    Sir Nils lives with the rest of our colony in Penguins Rock, the largest outdoor penguin pool in Europe
  • Sir Nils now outranks Major Nils Egelien, the soldier he was named after in 1972
  • In 2005, the Zoo was presented with a 4-foot tall bronze statue of Sir Nils which takes pride of place outside Penguins Rock.  A statue also stands at the King's Guard compound at Huseby Leir, Oslo
  • Edinburgh Zoo has a long history with both king penguins and Norway. The Norwegian family of Christian Salvesen presented the Zoo with its first-ever king penguin in 1913
  • When Nils was knighted it was such an important promotion it had to be approved by King Harald V of Norway!
  • The name 'Nils Olav' and his ranks have been passed down through three generations of king penguins since 1972, with the current holder being Sir Nils Olav III  

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