Written By: Ben Cosgrove

It’s the early 1960s. You’re dropping by a friend’s place. You knock on the door — but brace yourself. In their house or apartment there just might reside a lithe jungle cat. These creatures usually call Central and South American forests home, but as LIFE explained to its readers in a December 1961 article, margays were adapting to a whole new habitat … a concrete jungle.

Today, they’re classified as Near Threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “Red List” of endangered species. But back in the ’60s, margays (along with leopards, chimpanzees and kangaroos) were kept by the rich and famous as novelty pets. The photo here is of Montezuma the margay — “the most elegant pet to be found in New York City,” according to LIFE — romping in the Manhattan home of Mr. and Mrs. Si Merrill.

Subsisting largely on a diet of beef or turkey heart, and the occasional side of watercress, the powerful feline was full of energy. “I don’t think I could live without a margay,” Mrs. Merrill told LIFE. But Monte (as he was known) could probably do all right without her. Margays live largely on birds in their native arboreal habitat — and New York, of course, has an abundance of plump pigeons.

Montezuma the margay launches himself from the top of a door toward a bowl of his favorite delicacy -- watercress -- in New York City, 1961.

Montezuma the Margay, New York, 1961

Al Fenn The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock

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