PHOTO: Donna Kalil – ex Real Estate Agent

MIAMI (AP) — For most people, encountering an 18-foot-long python can be a terrifying experience. For Donna Kalil, who left her lucrative job as a real estate agent to become a hunter of the powerful snakes, it’s “a very exciting thing.”

Kalil decided to start capturing Burmese pythons in the Everglades after reading a story in the Miami Herald about one of the snakes blowing up when it swallowed a 6-foot alligator after a confrontation in 2005.

She realized there was a problem with these snakes, although she did not know how big it was, and she turned her life upside down to help remove pythons in the fragile Everglades ecosystem, where they are an invasive species.

Pythons have a tremendous impact on native Florida wildlife. They prey on 24 species of mammals and 43 species of birds. They also eat alligators, according to data from the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

Burmese pythons established themselves in Florida as a result of escaped or released pets and were first discovered in the Everglades nearly two decades ago. They have become the Everglades’ top predator, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Scientists estimate that there are about 300,000 pythons in the Everglades.