Iris scanning is being developed as a new way of identifying horses.

The first portable equine iris capture and identification system to help track and identify horses is being developed by US research company Sarnoff Corporation, on behalf of Global Animal Management (GAM).

GAM hopes the system could make brands and microchips a thing of the past.

The company claims there is a “worldwide interest in and need for non-invasive, accurate, low-cost alternatives to those currently used”.

“Animal identification is not nearly as efficient or simple as it needs to be,” said Mark Clifton, from Sarnoff, adding that markings can fade over time and can be faked.

But each horse has a unique iris pattern — even identical twins differ.

The system is based on the same James Bond-style technology that is used at UK borders and high security installations to identify people.

It captures the image of the iris with a low-visibility infrared light source. It is effective at a distance and can be used while the horse is moving.

President of the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) Chris House agreed the idea could work, but said it sounded “impractical”.

“Scanning a microchip takes seconds and gives the horse’s information immediately. I can’t see how iris scanning could be more effective than that,” he said.

“You could identify a horse using DNA, but you have to use a method of identification that is practical and simple.”

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (29 October, ’09)