15 Dec 2006 Source: Reuters
KATHMANDU, Dec 15 (Reuters) – Nepal's peace process has been disrupted by a row over whether the country should retain the cow as its national animal or replace it with the rhinoceros.
Cows are sacred in Hindu Nepal while the now rare rhinos live in protected reserves popular with tourists.
The dispute has bogged down political parties and Maoist rebels during meetings this week to discuss a roadmap for lasting peace.
The talks are aimed at preparing the draft of an interim constitution ahead of next year's planned elections for a special assembly, which will write a permanent constitution for Nepal.
During the dialogue, the Nepal Workers' and Peasants' Party (NWPP), a member of the ruling seven-party alliance, proposed Nepal abandon the cow and choose the rhino as its national animal.
"The rhino is an endangered animal and is unique to Nepal," NWPP chairman Narayan Man Bijukuchhe, told Reuters.
But that view triggered stern opposition from other parties of the alliance.
"It (the cow) is the most common domestic animal and is liked by Hindu and non-Hindu families alike," said Prakash Sharan Mahat, a senior leader of the Nepali Congress (Democratic) party.
"There should be no problem in retaining this as the national animal," he added.
The Maoists say the issue should be decided by the interim government that would include them.
Last year, there were 372 rhinoceroses, also known as the great one-horned rhinoceros, in Nepal's biggest reserve, Chitwan National Park. Their only other home is in neighbouring India's northeastern state of Assam.