Meet Brigadier Sir Nils Olav III: The World's Highest Ranking Penguin

Decked out in an impeccable black and white suit and standing proud at around three feet tall, meet the only knighted penguin in the world.

Nils Olav isn’t just a Sir, he’s also an honorary Brigadier for The Norwegian King’s Guards.

A tradition dating back over four decades dictates that one special animal at Edinburgh Zoo receives the title of sir, but Nils has gone one step further obtaining the rank of Brigadier.

Edinburgh’s high flying king penguin is the third to hold the name since 1972. Nils the third took over as Colonel-in-Chief in 2005 and has steadily been climbing the ranks since.

Nils Olav Brigadier Sir penguin
Keepers at the zoo have described Brigadier Sir Olav as a natural leader

Penguin keeper Stewart McGecky explained how the public are often stumped when in the presence of Brigadier Sir Olav, he said:

“It’s very much a strange thing to be telling the public about but they do eventually believe you and are very taken back by it. The fact that he’s the only knighted penguin in the world and also the only knight of Norway, he’s very very special.”

Nils Olav the first won the hearts of the Norwegian King's Guard, becoming their mascot. Now the tradition a promoting a penguin is a symbolic act of friendship between Scotland and Norway.

Members of the Band and Drill Team from His Majesty the King’s Guard, Norway
Members of the Band and Drill Team from the Norwegian King’s Guard (Picture: DoD).

Though an unusual candidate for a Brigadier Sir, Nil Olav the third is undoubtedly suited to the role, Stewart McGecky added:

“He definitely sees himself as the most important penguin here. He does kind of big himself up a little bit!

“Some of them, especially the younger birds will follow him around which he likes to start with but gets a little frustrated with them and gets annoyed with them.

“He does seem to be a bit of a leader.”

king penguin Nils Olav knighted in Edinburgh Zoo
King penguin Nils Olav III was knighted at Edinburgh Zoo (Picture: MOD).

To mark the triumph rise to the rank of Brigadier, over 50 of the King’s Guards visited the zoo where they received a formal inspection from their superior.

After inspecting the line, the king penguin picked up his medal of honour which was specially pinned to his wing.

Lorna Moffat, another penguin keeper at the zoo said:

“When we do have military personnel in to visit the zoo and we tell them the story if they haven’t heard it before they do salute him.”

Though Lorna went on to say that often the salute is in jest, it is clear to see that Nils Olav the third is a well-loved addition to the military family.

    The rise of Nils Olav

    • 1972: a king penguin at the Edinburgh Zoo was named after two people; Major Nils Egelien, who organized his adoption, and the then-King of Norway, King Olav
    • 1982: he receives a promotion to Corporal
    • 1987: the king penguin is then made a Sergeant
    • 1993: another promotion to Regimental Sergeant Major
    • 2001: he is made a Honourable Regimental Sergeant Major
    • 2005: a promotion to Colonel-in-Chief
    • 2008: Nils Olav III is knighted
    • 2016: he reaches the high rank of Brigadier Sir