The decline of wildlife populations due to emerging infectious disease often shows a common pattern: the parasite invades a naive host population, producing epidemic disease and a population decline, sometimes with extirpation. Some susceptible host populations can survive the epidemic phase and persist with endemic parasitic infection. Understanding host–parasite dynamics leading to persistence of the system is imperative to adequately inform conservation practice. Here we combine field data, statistical and mathematical modelling to explore the dynamics of the apparently stable Rhinoderma darwinii–Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) system. Our results indicate that Bd-induced population extirpation may occur even in the absence of epidemics and where parasite prevalence is relatively low. These empirical findings are consistent with previous theoretical predictions showing that highly pathogenic parasites are able to regulate host populations even at extremely low prevalence, highlighting that disease threats should be investigated as a cause of population declines even in the absence of an overt increase in mortality.