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It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a Margay Kitten in a New York Apartment!

Montezuma the margay kitten -- a largely arboreal big cat native to Central and South America -- launches himself from the top of a door in a New York apartment in 1961.

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.

Delia Mandia is a native New Yorker and NYU undergraduate student whose passion is her global nonprofit organization, Night Night Monster. She also enjoys competitive gaming (she is world-ranked) on her custom built hydro-cooled PC, and attending Stargate conventions.

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