We've put out quite a few trackables in the roughly six years since we started caching, but until recently, had only a vague idea about their fate. To get a better idea of their status, we put together a little spreadsheet with some details about them. The results paint a fairly sobering picture.
All told, we have released 44 trackables into the wild, starting in early 2010. Our recent assessment revealed that only 11, or exactly 25%, of them can be considered still active with any degree of confidence. Another 25% are in limbo - there have been no logs of movement in recent months, but we still hold out some hope that may not be lost. Most of them are listed as being in the hands of cachers (see below for more on that). A couple are listed as being dropped in caches, but there have been quite a few subsequent finders of those caches, and none have mentioned picking up or seeing the trackables. Not a good sign. Finally, the remaining 50% are almost certainly gone for good - they either have been confirmed as missing from a cache by someone, or they're listed as being in the hands of someone who has not been active for several years. Of course, there is always some faint hope that one of these will be mysteriously resurrected. We've picked up at least one that had been missing for more than three years, and had disappeared on another continent!
The majority of our trackables (66%) are listed as being in someone's hands. Some were picked up fairly recently, so no problem there. Others were picked up years ago, and the (former) cacher can no longer be contacted through gc.com. It's the remaining ones that are of interest - they picked up the trackable a long time ago (six months or more, typically much more), but Groundspeak still considers them to be active (though in some cases, they haven't logged in for a long time). We picked out 18 in this category that seemed the most promising, and sent them messages asking if they still had the trackable, and if so, could they please get it moving again soon. We've only received 4 replies. Two of them, at least, were positive - they apologized for holding onto it for so long, and said they would move it along soon. Another said that they were pretty sure they dropped it at an event, though their log says that they only took it there. Large events and trackables are often not a happy mix - lots of confusion and rushing around, hard to keep track of who did what. The fourth one claimed that she had never picked up any trackable. We sent her a link to her log showing that she retrieved it from a cache about a year ago. No response. Hmm...
Our analysis of the logs indicates that the majority of missing trackables were not stolen by muggles - they were picked up by people who were caching. For a variety of reasons, they didn't get moved along. Maybe they had no clue about the concept of trackable ownership, and simply collected them. Maybe they misplaced it, and it's still sitting in the back of a drawer or the bottom of a knapsack somewhere. Maybe they dropped it in the bush. Or maybe they quit caching abruptly due to some life crisis, and disposed of any residue that had... perhaps some of them are even deceased. Who knows?
In any case, it's not an encouraging track record, and we likely won't be releasing many more into the wild. If we do release some, they will probably be inexpensive replacements - we have plenty of tracking codes we can re-use!
Lastly, a few stats... the average distance traveled by one of our trackables is 14.682 km. The maximum is 63,094 km (unfortunately, that one vanished in England in 2013). Our record for longevity is a geocoin released just over five years ago that is still active (alas, the seven trackables we released before that one have all disappeared into oblivion).