Adventurers of the Year 2006

Bruce Beehler: Modern-Day Darwin

It's a tale straight from the age of exploration: bushwhacking into distant and jungled mountains, cutting trails where no human has ever walked, and finding a world lost to modern time. On this quickly shrinking planet, you'd think such a journey impossible. Not for Bruce Beehler. Last winter the 55-year-old biologist with Conservation International led a team into the trackless Foja Mountains of western New Guinea. After a month of trooping through rain forest, fording rivers, and even calling in a helicopter for aid, Beehler found himself in an isolated valley filled with bizarre and unknown animals, plants, and insects. He immediately set to his science, recording more than 40 new species and scores of rare finds. Among the mix: a golden-mantled tree kangaroo that he considers "one of the most beautiful mammals on Earth" and the long-beaked echidna, a spiny, egg-laying, worm-eating creature that's armed with poisonous spurs on its rear feet.

"I've been working on the island of New Guinea for 31 years," Beehler says, "looking for birds and wildlife, and I never expected to have such an experience. There are hundreds of thousands of new species still out there. It's going to take many decades to protect and steward them all."