Nils Olav to p-p-pick up another promotion

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HE is almost certainly the most decorated penguin in the world.

Edinburgh Zoo's Nils Olav – or Three Star Honourable Regimental Sergeant Major Nils Olav, to give him his full title – already holds honours usually reserved for distinguished soldiers and other heroic humans.

Ever since young Norwegian army lieutenant Nils Egelien discovered the zoo's penguins during a visit to the Capital in 1961, his regiment the King's Guard have feted the animals with a series of prestigious titles.

But now Nils is set to receive his highest honour yet with an award sanctioned by King Harald V of Norway himself.

It is rumoured the Norwegians plan to bestow a knighthood on the King penguin.

A special ceremony is to be staged at the zoo next Friday at which Nils will be formally presented with his new title by members of the Norwegian King's Guard.

Organisers of the event, though, are staying tight-lipped, saying they will not comment on "speculation".

Members of the Royal Guard were spotted at the zoo yesterday visiting Nils and making plans for next week's ceremony.

A source at the zoo said: "It was amazing – as soon as Nils saw the Norwegians he moved away from all the other King Penguins over to the gate, and stood up to his full, regal height. He clearly recognised them, and they all went over to greet him. He was a bit upset when they left, but I'm sure he'll be very pleased next week."

The Norwegian army has built a strong relationship with the zoo and its penguins since lieutenant Egelien's visit.

The king penguins so captivated the soldiers – who were in Edinburgh to make their first appearance at the Tattoo – that when they returned to the Capital in 1972, a penguin was named after lieutenant Egelien and Norway's then King Olav, and was awarded the honorary rank of Lance Corporal.

On subsequent Tattoo visits, Nils was promoted to corporal and then sergeant.

When the original Nils died in 1993, he was replaced by a new king penguin, who immediately became a Regimental Sergeant Major. In 2005, as well as his promotion, a 4ft-high bronze sculpture of Nils was unveiled at the zoo to commemorate the occasion, and celebrate 100 years of Norwegian independence.

Today, Tattoo spokesman Alan Smith said: "The details of the ceremony are being kept a closely guarded secret, but the Guards who visited Nils were all very pleased to meet him. He seemed to recognise who they were.

"This is a major event, and the last time Nils got a promotion it made headlines around the world."

Darren McGarry, animal collection manager for Edinburgh Zoo, said: "We are very excited to welcome the Norwegian Royal Guard back and we are very proud of our connection with them. Its always a great occasion and the staff are really looking forward to it. The Guard came in for a quick visit today and Nils Olav recognised them instantly so I suspect he knows that a promotion may be imminent!"

The presentation to Nils Olav is set to be held at Edinburgh Zoo on Friday, August 15, at 11am.