Athens — The Ionian island of Cephalonia is the site of a new game preserve that could help resolve the battle between Greek hunters and environmentalists. The preserve, the Cephalonia Game Farm, is Greece's first privately run bird-breeding and hunting facility. Pending government approval, it will enable hunters to go after a plentiful stock of locally bred and raised quail, partridge, and pheasant.
Modeled after United States game farms, it is the brainchild of a Greek-American businessman, Nick Sklavounos, who is repatriating to his home island the fortune that he made in a chain of US fast-food restaurants.
For hunters, the 7,000-acre farm will at least partially address the often-heard complaint about the lack of game birds in Greece. Mr. Sklavounos expects to have 200,000 by 1987, having started with 40 birds three years ago.
Conservationists welcome the farm and facilities like it as a means to restrict geographically what they see as hunting anarchy in Greece. With 350,000 registered hunters, and maybe half again as many unregistered ones, Greece has the most hunters per capita in Europe: 1 in 20. Greek environmentalists, who number fewer than 10,000, would like to see a total ban on hunting. But given the political difficulty of imposing one they would at least like to see the sport limited to special areas, as it is in Britain, Belgium, and Poland.
As things stand now, Greek hunters can chase down their quarry where they please. One protectionist, who has written a book against hunting, complains that they ``shoot anything that moves,'' often without knowing the difference between a common game bird and a rare or endangered species.
One hunter, who publishes a magazine on the sport, responds to such criticism by characterizing the environmentalists as a bunch of ``almost extinct hippies who are trying to recreate 1968.''
Although such interchanges are also heard in the US, the debate here goes beyond clashes like those between the Sierra Club and National Rifle Association.
For one, Greek environmentalists are also fighting thousands of years of tradition. Hunting was glorified in mythology. It was also a basic element in classical Greek education, where learning to draw a bow and ride a horse were deemed as important as the three Rs. These traditions have not been lost to modern Greeks.
The Greek ecological movement is also hindered by its lack of size and, therefore, money. The largest group, the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature, has 2,000 members, but many of the members are from other European countries who finance the group's work from abroad. Only occasionally does the Greek government appropriate any funds for the group.
Lobbying is therefore a herculean task for the conservation groups here. Every winter they go to the Ministry of Agriculture seeking a ban on spring hunting. After March 19, they argue, wildlife should be left to breed.
But such arguments sometimes pale next to the political influence wielded by hunters. Annual licensing fees bring $10 million to the Agriculture Ministry, and, economists say, hunters spend 10 times that amount each year in equipping themselves.