The Royal Norwegian Guard and Band visited the king penguin Sir Nils Olav III, whom they promoted to Major General, at Edinburgh Zoo last week, as part of their performance at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo 2023
Last week, a king penguin from Edinburgh Zoo, Sir Nils Olav III, Baron of Bouvet Island – a Norwegian administered island close to Antarctica – was promoted to Major General by the Royal Norwegian Guard. But does such a high military rank – that of a general in charge of a brigade – offer any advantages to this penguin?
The ceremony took place during the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. The Norwegian Royal Guard and its brass band were also invited to pay a visit to their official mascot, who lives in the city’s zoo.
Sir Nils Olav III is the third in a dynasty of king penguins to become mascots for the Norwegian elite unit. The first was adopted in 1972 by Sergeant Major Nils Egelien, under the reign of Olav V. “Nils Egelien fell in love with the zoo’s penguin colony, their regal march reminding him of the soldiers of the guard,” recalls Amy Middleton, Head of Communications at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
Each time the Royal Guards perform in Edinburgh, they pay a visit to their mascot. On eight successive occasions, the latter have risen through the ranks from corporal in 1982, to major-general last week. When the Royal Guards can’t make it, they contribute financially to feeding the zoo’s penguins.
Both its rank and location are reminders of the friendship between the UK and Norway, which has translated into free trade agreements since the Brexit or the opening of a new British marine commando base near the Russia-Norway border last March.
“This is a very proud moment, which testifies to the close collaboration between Scotland and Norway,” said David Field, Chief Executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
In the vanguard of animal rights
“This example points towards a recognition of the animal’s personality and skills,” explains Murielle Falaise, Senior Lecturer of Private Law at Lyon III Jean Moulin University. “This is not the equivalent of a human personality; rather, a number of cases already exist, such as national guard horses, sniffer dogs and guide dogs for the visually impaired.”
This endorsement is in no way legally binding, but is inspired by the philosopher Tom Regan. His reasoning was that animals live by defending their interests, which would give them the possibility of having rights, such as a pension, which is not often the case for racehorses, for example.
That’s what the White Rabbit association is demanding for healthy laboratory rabbits, who should receive a pension after their time in service. Such claims are based on the 1978 Universal Declaration of Animal Rights. The Declaration does not call into question man’s use of animals. Rather, it calls for respect for animals capable of subjective experience, which is recognized by science in certain cases.
What about Sir Nils Olav III? Does he have subjective experiences? Is his work as a performer so demanding as to receive retirement and a pension afterwards?
Living conditions in zoos are sometimes subject to criticism. However, vets assure us that they take their well-being seriously and are vigilant to ensure that they are well fed and that their living conditions are in line with their biology.
Sir Nils Olav III is part of a protected species, and along with others, he enables scientists to learn more about these birds before studying them on-site. And perhaps the services provided by these birds could one day be considered jobs with all that goes with it.
Camille Lin, PolarJournal
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