Question: What's an eel from Asia doing in a pond in Georgia?
Answer: Filling its belly with fish — and causing a major headache for the Southern state.

Large numbers of Asian eels are eating up the small fish in three ponds near Atlanta, Georgia. Without this important food source, the pond's bigger fish may starve to death, according to Georgia scientist John Biagi. To make matters worse, the eels could spread to other areas.

The Asian eel does not belong in U.S. waters. It is native to Southeast Asia and Australia. So how did the Asian invaders get into the ponds? Biagi believes pet owners put them there. Baby Asian eels look like colorful little ribbons. But they can grow to as long as three feet and slither out of a tank. They also like to eat pet fish! Biagi says pet owners who did not realize they were raising such monsters set the adult eels free.

That may sound kind, but in fact, releasing the eels into the wild was the wrong thing to do, says Biagi. "The eels upset the ecosystem and may cause some native species to die out in the ponds," he told SN.

Experts at the U.S. Humane Society also feel that releasing pets into the wild is not a great idea. It's not only a possible problem for the ecosystem, it's a bad idea for the animal. Not all pets can survive in the wild.

Here are some tips the Humane Society has for choosing a pet responsibly:

• Why do you want the pet?

• Will you be able to give the pet lots of attention every day — not just when you feel like it?

• Can your family afford to pay for the pet’s food and medical care?

• Do you know how large the pet will be when full-grown?

• Is anyone in your family allergic to this type of animal?

Answering these questions honestly can help pet owners get more enjoyment from their pets. It also helps to avoid problems like those in Georgia.

Scholastic News, Senior Edition, 1/31/97