Charles Zelenka has lived right up against a mountainside in the community of No Name east of Glenwood Springs in Glenwood Canyon, and he’s used to seeing wildlife in his yard.
During the 17 years that he has lived north of Interstate 70, he has had bighorn sheep, bear, moose and other animals swing through his property, he said in an interview Monday, briefly interrupting himself to whisk away a woodpecker attacking the exterior of his house.
When Zelenka heard a thumping sound outside his house about 1:40 a.m last Wednesday, he thought it might be a bear, after having seen a small one in the area a week or two ago despite it being winter.
Zelenka took a look outside but couldn’t see anything in the dark and went back to bed. Then he heard more thumping, turned on his porch light and looked out his front door and saw an injured elk, kicking on the front porch.
“I thought it must have been hit by a car or something and made it up to my porch to die,” he said.
It turns out, the elk was only half the story, as Zelenka found out when he later saw the animal had stopped kicking.
“I was just about ready to walk out there and all of a sudden a mountain lion popped up from underneath the elk, so apparently it had a death grip on the elk and was underneath it,” Zelenka said.
“... When I saw that mountain lion, I started filming right away,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do. I was standing in my underwear going ‘What the heck.’ ”
As it turns out, Zelenka’s instinct to capture some video of the incident has resulted in millions of people getting to see what it’s like to spy a lion just outside your home with a cow elk it had taken down.
As of Monday, his 78-second clip showing the blood-stained lion standing over the elk, then staring at Zelenka and repeatedly baring his fangs before walking away, had been viewed 2.2 million times on Facebook.
A posting by Zelenka that includes the video has been shared 30,000 times and generated some 5,700 comments, bolstered by coverage of the incident on websites including www.outdoorlife.com.
Zelenka said he’s gotten all kinds of comments, including from people with similar names wondering if they’re related to him, and from conspiratorial commenters suggesting he’d shot the elk.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Travis Duncan said Monday that a wildlife officer sent to the scene verified it was a lion kill.
Zelenka said he’s had people calling, wanting to copyright the video.
“I think it’s too late (for that). It’s out there in the world, so let it go,” he said. “It’s viral. I’m not going to grab that thing back anymore. It doesn’t matter.”
He said he’s glad people got to see it and that he got to experience it.
“Man, that was cool,” he said.
But he feels some sympathy for the elk, which he said seemed to have come to the house trying to escape from the lion.
“I know it’s nature at its finest but, I don’t know, I just felt bad for the cow.”
He said it was healthy looking and big, and he’s amazed that a lion not that much larger than his Labrador retriever was able to kill it.
After the lion left the scene, Zelenka checked on the elk.
“It was very dead. You could see where (the lion) got a pretty good death grip on its neck,” Zelenka said.
He called emergency dispatchers that night, and they contacted Parks and Wildlife. An officer responded the next morning and removed the elk carcass with the help of a winch.
Zelenka said he had gotten up about 6 a.m. the next morning and could see the lion had come back that night and chewed on the elk. He feels bad the lion wasn’t able to make more of a meal out of its kill because it occurred right outside his door.
Duncan said Parks and Wildlife wasn’t able to donate the meat to anyone because it had been out too long and was no longer salvageable.
Zelenka said he’s only seen about three lions around his home over the years.
“I’ve seen a couple of kills around, but I’ve never seen them enter the yard like that,” he said.
He said a Chihuahua dog disappeared without a sound from outside a neighbor’s house one night this summer, an incident that struck him as likely having involved a lion.
Zelenka said the night after the elk was removed, he saw the lion run away when he pulled into his driveway, and his security camera showed it roaming around his yard, looking for the elk kill.
“It hasn’t been back since,” he said.
He’s taken the step of urinating where the elk had been, in an effort to keep the lion from paying more visits.
“I know it’s goofy, but that’s kind of the way the animal world is, you know,” he said.
Zelenka thinks the recent heavy snow, and also lingering habitat damage from the Grizzly Creek Fire in Glenwood Canyon in 2020, have combined to push animals like elk and lion into areas such as near his home.
Duncan said Matt Yamashita, Parks and Wildlife area wildlife manager for the region including Glenwood Springs, told him the agency is seeing an uptick in calls about lion sightings in the Glenwood Springs area, and in years like this one, with average or above- average snowpack, prey species are concentrated on the valley floor, where municipalities are located.
Information on living in lion country can be found in the Living with Wildlife section of Parks and Wildlife’s website, www.cpw.state.co.us.
Parks and Wildlife recently raised the hunter harvest limit for lions in a Glenwood Springs regional special lion management area including most of the Roaring Fork Valley and parts of the Eagle Valley south of Interstate 70.
It was acting on concerns about frequent lion sightings and potentially dangerous human-lion encounters.
“I’m not a mountain lion hunter, per se, but if someone wants to go up here and clean up my backyard I’m not opposed to it, honestly. I’d even show them where to start,” Zelenka said with a laugh.
He looks back with relief that he didn’t follow his initial impulse to try to help the elk. Deciding he didn’t want to get kicked by a big animal, he stayed inside.
“It’s everybody’s instinct to try to help out. In this case, I’m glad I didn’t walk out there and try to see what was going on. It might have ended differently,” he said.