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Friday, 17 August, 2001, 19:48 GMT 20:48 UK
Penguin picks up military honour
Nils Olav pictured with Norwegian Army in the background
Nils Olav at the ceremony
Norway has bestowed one of its most prestigious military honours at a ceremony in Edinburgh - on a penguin.

The king penguin, known as Nils Olav, has been promoted to the rank of honourable regimental sergeant major.

The bird is the first to hold the rank in the Norwegian Army.

Nils Olav was promoted at a ceremony in Edinburgh Zoo on Friday.

During the ceremony to honour Nils Olav
Retired Major Nils Egelien calls the shots
Officers had been keeping quiet over his new rank, which was known only to a select few, including King Harald of Norway and senior advisers.

Retired Major Nils Egelien of the Royal Norwegian Guards said: "It all started in 1961 when the King's Guard of Norway came to the military tattoo and we were very very interested in the king penguins.

"In 1972 we came back again and adopted a king penguin in the name of Nils Olav and the rank of lance corporal.

"In 1982 he was a corporal, in 87 a sergeant and in 1993 a regimental sergeant major."

Keeper Rob Thomas said that, if Nils Olav was aware of his status, he did not show it.

Bronze gift

He said: "They're a pretty quiet lot. I think that any one penguin would soon be put down by the others if it tried to assert its superiority over the others.

"All the penguins here are used to the company of humans. It is a very public exhibit, if you like, or they have the space to get away if they want to get into a more solitary situation.

Nils Olav with his badge of honour
Nils Olav with his badge of honour
"Because we hand feed the penguins, because we have the penguin parade, the close proximity of people, the attention, is not going to do them any harm."

Major Egelien said that the new rank of Nils Olav could not be revealed until the ceremony had taken place.

They are having a bronze statue made of the penguin for the king of Norway.

The penguin which was promoted is not the original Nils Olav. He died in 1987 and was replaced by a two-year-old penguin.

The BBC's Asad Ahmad
"Most of the other animals seemed unimpressed"
The BBC's Morag Kinniburgh
speaks to Major Nils Egelien of Norway, and keeper Rob Thomas
Morag Kinniburgh reports
"He's been sponsored by the Norwegian army for almost 20 years."
See also:

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Penguins wear jumpers
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'Heatwave' stresses penguins
22 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
Penguin thrown to the lions
02 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Penguin treated for depression
07 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
P-p-p-pick out a penguin
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