"Through negotiations between the department and Koketso Growth it was agreed that it should be removed and that was done," Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile's spokesman Mogomotsi Mogodiri told Sapa on Thursday.
Koketso Growth is the company commissioned by the department to erect the nine metre statue of Mandela.
"The department commissioned Dali Tambo through his company to erect the statue of Mr Mandela... and a rabbit was unfortunately inserted on the statue."
In January, the sculptors Andre Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren, apologised and said the rabbit was a "small trademark" of their work. The department accepted the apology, saying their intentions were honourable. The department was on Thursday unable to say when the rabbit was removed and where it had been taken to. "Mr Dali Tambo will be better placed to know where exactly is the rabbit, and what he did with it," said Mogodiri.
'Mr Dali Tambo will be better placed to know where exactly is the rabbit, and what he did with it'
He confirmed that the department did not respond to a request by animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) to adopt the rabbit.
"The organisation's request was misdirected. The department does not own the rabbit," said Mogodiri.
"It's not our property, so how do we give away something we do not own?"
In January, Peta wrote to Mashatile asking if it could adopt the rabbit once it was removed.
In the letter, Peta associate director Mimi Bekhechi wrote: "Mandela cared about cruelty to animals. He was a patron of the National Council of Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals... We would be honoured to use the bronze rabbit, the same animal who proudly leaps across Peta's logo, to honour Mandela's vision of a more peaceful, kinder world."
The group wanted to use the miniature statue to highlight the plight of billions of rabbits and other animals slaughtered for their skins, kept in chains, and denied the chance to be free.
The statue was unveiled by President Jacob Zuma on December 16, the day after Mandela's funeral. It was also part of the annual celebrations of Reconciliation Day and the commemoration of the centenary of the Union Buildings.
Mandela died at his Houghton, Johannesburg, home on December 5 at the age of 95.