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Old 05-26-2009, 03:11 PM
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Default World's most decorated penguin: Sir Nils Olav, honorary colonel-in-chief

World's most decorated penguin: Sir Nils Olav, honorary colonel-in-chief of Norwegian King's Guard, now a knight

For the com- manding officer of the Nor- wegian King's Guard, it was a moment as surreal as it was moving. As Lieutenant-Colonel Ingrid Gjerde surveyed the scene before her in Edinburgh yesterday, she must have wondered whether she was dreaming. For the King's Guard was about to award a knighthood to what was already the world's most decorated penguin.
Nils, or now Sir Nils Olav, waddled into the history books Friday when he was knighted by a visiting royal Norwegian regiment in Scotland. The king penguin became the first black-and-white pint-sized Norwegian Sir with wings after inspecting the Norwegian King's Guard, which is visiting Edinburgh for the annual Military Tattoo.

The bird first became an honorary member of the Norwegian regiment in the 1970s, when a lieutenant called Nils Egelien visited the Scottish Zoo. Norway's head of state was then King Olav V. The Norwegian guardsmen visit Nils every few years when they come for the Scottish military jamboree, and over the years he has risen through the ranks, finally becoming the regiment's Colonel-in-Chief. The original Nils died about 20 years ago, and the name has been transferred to one of his penguin peers.
On Friday he was granted the highest honour yet, when a guardsman dubbed a sword on each side of his head --- where his shoulders should be -- to confirm his regimental knighthood. "Nils always recognises the Norwegian Guardsmen when they come to visit him," said Darren McGarry of Edinburgh Zoo. "He loves the attention he receives at the ceremony and takes his time inspecting the troops."
With her army band and drill team forming a guard of honour, before several hundred spectators and a 40-strong media scrum, Gjerde said: "I never learned anything about penguins or making speeches in zoos when I was going through training." Moments later, after a fanfare by the trumpet corps gathered at Edinburgh Zoo, all eyes were on king penguin Nils Olav as he gracefully marched into view. Perhaps mindful of the importance of the occasion, he displayed all the grace and poise of a royal guardsman. Only when confronted by a tall man in a smart suit wielding a long sword did the bird flinch. But in seconds he had regained his poise long enough to be knighted at the behest of King Harald V himself.

Before Nils had performed his impressive march, Major- General Euan Loudon, chief executive of the Tattoo, who performed the knighting, described him as an "iconic penguin". "Scotland and Norway have long historical connections with each other and this is a very important occasion for both the Tattoo and our capital city." The king's citation, which was read out to the crowd, spoke of "our trusty and well-beloved" Nils Olav. Mr Egelien, who travelled to Edinburgh for the ceremony, said he had spoken with the king earlier in the day and he had been "heartily entertained" to hear about the planned ceremony.
The six-year-old penguin is the third at the zoo to have enjoyed publicity during the promotional ceremonies, held by the Norwegian King's Guard when they are in the city to perform at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Norwegian King's guardsman Captain Rune Wiik added: "We are extremely proud of Nils Olav and pleased that an enduring part of the Royal Guard is resident in Scotland helping to further strengthen ties between our two countries." Norway gave the zoo its first king penguin in 1913, the year of its opening. It now boasts more than 120 and the penguin pool is the biggest in the world.
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