AUSTIN (KXAN) — When Kristopher Rutherford took a set of portraits of a kangaroo at a Texas zoo a year ago, he wasn’t sure what he was going to do with them.
Then came the news late last year that massive swaths of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, were on fire. Tens of millions of acres have burned as the fires continue to ravage the country, and researchers believe more than a billion animals have died.
Rutherford’s wife came up with the idea to turn his year-old photos into a cause.
“It just seemed like we have these images that people already liked, so why not do something with them that could benefit someone?” Rutherford said. “I mean, they just would have sat on a hard drive forever.”
The filmmaker and photographer posted five portraits to Instagram, encouraging people to buy prints with all the proceeds going to WIRES, the Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service in New South Wales.
The response has been overwhelming. “We were kind of shocked,” Rutherford said.
You can buy prints of the photos here. They will be available through the end of February.
‘Amazing response out of the gate’
Rutherford met with KXAN Monday at Holland Photo Imaging, a shop in south Austin that’s producing all the kangaroo prints. Technicians printed and cut dozens of portraits to fulfill orders that have poured in since Rutherford posted his request two weeks ago.
His original goal was to raise $1,000 for WIRES. “We hit that in a couple days,” he said. With about 250 orders as of Monday morning, his photos have already raised double the original goal.
“When we got this amazing response out of the gate, we decided, let’s just see what it could be,” Rutherford said.
It’s an unlikely turn in the course of a project he started to get a break from his normal tasks. Feeling a little burned out by his film and video work, he started taking still photos of friends’ dogs.
“And then it’s quickly snowballed into something that’s become like a side project where we photograph hundreds of dogs and collaborate with animal organizations to kind of help tell their story with portraits.”
The wildfires in Australia have killed more than two dozen people and destroyed hundreds of homes. The recovery will be long and difficult, and not just for the families who call the country home.
At least 25 million acres of land are scorched, including habitat and resources for threatened species. For the animals that survive the initial devastation, it will take years for their food and shelter sources to fully recover.
Rutherford’s work now is helping to enable the long-term work wildlife groups will undertake to bring entire ecosystems back from the brink.
“We’re hoping that this kind of just turns into something wild.”