JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - An animals rights group has applied to South Africa's government to adopt the bronze bunny secretly sculpted inside the right ear of a statue of Nelson Mandela.
Authorities this week ordered the little figure's removal after the artists included it without clearance.
But in a letter to Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile, animal rights organisation PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) asked to take in the orphaned animal.
It would "highlight the plight of the billions of rabbits and other wonderful animals who are slaughtered for their skins, used in forced labour, and kept in chains," the group said in the letter, forwarded to media.
News of the hidden bunny left the government steaming this week over perceived disrespect to the father of the nation.
The saga drew banter from some, who started a campaign called #savetherabbit on twitter. One joker also started an account on the microblogging site with the handle @mandelarabbit.
The two bronze sculptors - Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren - who added the mammal as their "signature" of the work, have apologised.
Built at a cost of eight million rand (about S$944,000), the 4.5-tonne sculpture is the largest of Mandela statues erected around the world.
It was unveiled just a day after Mr Mandela was buried.
Mr Mandela, who became South Africa's first black president after 27 years in apartheid prisons, died on December 5, 2013 at the age of 95.
"We would be honoured to use the bronze rabbit... to honour Mandela's vision of a more peaceful, kinder world," said PETA.