Lesson plan; the story behind The penguin, Sir Nils Olaf III and other animals with military ranks


Did you know that there is a penguin who is a general in the Norwegian army? His name is Sir Nils Olaf III, and he lives at the Edinburgh Zoo. He is the official mascot of His Majesty the King’s Guard of Norway, and he has been honoured with a guard of honour and a promotion ceremony by 160 uniformed soldiers.

Nils Egelien was a Major in the Norwegian King’s Guard who adopted a penguin from Edinburgh Zoo in 1972 and named him after himself and King Olav of Norway who was on the throne at the time.

This tradition started in 1961, when the Norwegian King’s Guard visited the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo for a drill display. Major Nils Egelien was so impressed by the zoo’s penguin colony that he adopted one of them and named him after himself. Since then, the Norwegian soldiers have kept in touch with the penguin Sir Nils, sending him fish and Christmas cards every year and visiting him when they are in Edinburgh.

Sir Nils Olaf III is the third penguin to bear this name and rank. He inherited it from his predecessor, who died in 2015. He is also the highest-ranking penguin in the world, outranking the soldier he was named after. He is known for his impeccable posture and discipline, standing to attention when he sees the soldiers.

Sir Nils Olaf III is a remarkable example of the bond between humans and animals and a source of pride for both Norway and Scotland. If you are in Edinburgh, don’t miss the chance to see this extraordinary penguin and his companions at the zoo. You might even catch a glimpse of his medal, which he wears on his flipper.

Class Activity

Read the text below with the other examples, and in groups of 2 or 3, choose one of the animals you would like to get to know better. Make a short presentation for the rest of your class with your findings

Other examples

There are many animals that have been used in the military for various purposes. Horses, elephants, camels, and other animals have been used for both transportation and mounted attack. Pigeons were used for communication and photographic espionage. Many other animals have reportedly been used in various specialized military functions, including rats and pigs. Dogs have long been employed in a wide variety of military purposes, more recently focusing on guarding and bomb detection, and along with dolphins and sea lions, are in active use today.

Here is a list of some of the most impressive and high-ranking military animals of all time2:

  • Nils Olav, a penguin who is the colonel-in-chief and official mascot of Norway’s Royal Guard.
  • Wojtek the bear was enlisted into the Polish army during World War II.
  • G.I. Joe, the pigeon who saved over 1,000 lives during World War II.
  • Judy, the dog was the only animal to be registered as a prisoner of war during World War II.
  • Sergeant Reckless, the horse who served in the Korean War.

Here are some other examples of specific dogs that were used in various military conflicts for bomb detection and related tasks, along with their names:

  1. Sergeant Stubby: A famous dog from World War I, Sergeant Stubby was a stray Bull Terrier mix who became the official mascot of the 102nd Infantry Regiment of the United States Army. He is known for his service in the trenches of France, where he warned his unit of incoming artillery fire and located wounded soldiers. Stubby is often considered a symbol of canine heroism during wartime.
  2. Nemo: Nemo was a German Shepherd who served in the Vietnam War as a combat tracker dog. He and his handler, Air Force Tsgt. Robert Thorneburg, were part of the Air Force’s Combat Tracker Team. Nemo is remembered for his actions during a nighttime enemy attack on their base in 1966. Despite being wounded, Nemo attacked the attackers, giving Thorneburg enough time to call for reinforcements. Both Nemo and Thorneburg survived the attack.
  3. Cairo: Cairo was a Belgian Malinois who participated in the mission that led to the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011. As a member of the United States Navy SEALs’ SEAL Team Six, Cairo was trained in bomb detection and worked alongside his human team members in various high-risk missions.
  4. Lucca: Lucca was a retired Marine Corps working dog who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. A Belgian Malinois, Lucca was trained as a specialized search dog to detect explosives and IEDs. She completed more than 400 missions during her career and saved the lives of countless soldiers before she was injured by an IED in 2012.
  5. Layka: Layka was a Belgian Malinois military working dog who served as a member of a Special Forces team in Afghanistan. In 2012, she was seriously wounded while apprehending an enemy combatant during a firefight. Despite her injuries, she continued to engage the enemy, protecting her team members. Layka survived the encounter and was awarded the Dickin Medal, which honors the bravery of animals in military service.
  6. Rex: Rex was a German Shepherd who served as a military working dog with the United States Marine Corps during the Iraq War. Rex and his handler, Marine Corporal Megan Leavey, completed over 100 missions together, including bomb detection sweeps and security patrols. They were injured in an IED explosion, and Rex eventually retired to live with Leavey.

These are just a few examples of the many remarkable dogs that have served in various military conflicts. Each of these dogs demonstrated exceptional courage and loyalty while working alongside their human counterparts.

I would love to hear from you